Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, called meninges. It causes inflammation and swelling of these tissues, which may produce moderate symptoms and eventually subside but it can also cause severe, life-threatening symptoms and require emergency treatment.

If you develop meningitis, you will likely experience headache, fever and a stiff neck. Other symptoms can include nausea or vomiting, confusion, trouble concentrating, seizures, sleepiness, sensitivity to light, loss of appetite and thirst and, in some cases, a rash.

Infants with meningitis may have a range of serious symptoms, such as fever, inconsolable crying, being very sleepy and having trouble waking from sleep (not even to eat), vomiting, a bulge in the soft spot on top of the baby’s head and body and neck stiffness.

Meningitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi but also by some drugs and cancer.

  • Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis. Even though most people get better on their own without treatment, you should see a doctor if you develop meningitis symptoms as your condition may become serious. A range of viruses can be responsible for this disease, including mumps virus, herpesviruses, measles virus, influenza (flu) virus, arboviruses, such as West Nile virus and Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus.
  • Bacterial meningitis is very serious and without antibiotic treatment can cause death in as little as a few hours. Nevertheless, most people recover but some may have permanent disabilities, such as brain damage or hearing loss. There are many types of bacteria that can cause meningitis and some of them, such as Escherichia coli or Listeria monocytogenes, can spread through food – typically meat and animal products but plant foods may be contaminated too, either when handled with dirty hands or fertilized with manure. Other meningitis bacteria spread by human contact.
  • Parasitic meningitis can be caused by a number of parasites but is much less common than viral and bacterial meningitis. The parasites usually infect only animals – people can get infected by eating contaminated meat or other contaminated foods.
  • Fungal meningitis is very rare and develops when a fungal infection spreads from somewhere else in the body to the brain or spinal cord. The fungi causing these infections are microscopic so you cannot see them.
  • Amoebic meningitis is a rare and life-threatening brain infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, a free-living amoeba (a single-celled organism) that lives in warm fresh water and soil. It usually infects people when they’re swimming by entering the nose. You cannot get infected by drinking contaminated water.Only bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics. For the other types, only symptom-relieving care is given. To reduce your risk of infection, make sure to wash or sanitise your hands often, avoid contact with ill people and base your diet on plant foods.