Viral, Bacterial and Fungal Meningitis and How to Avoid Them


There are four types of Meningitis, Viral, Bacterial, Fungal, and Amoebic.  The tragic and ongoing outbreak of Fungal Meningitis has brought this disease to the forefront and following is a basic outline of the types of meningitis, how they are contracted, and the symptoms and treatment of each.

Viral Meningitis is caused by contact with contaminated matter from a carrier, such as saliva or mucus.  It is considered the most common and least severe type of meningitis.  The virus grows in the digestive tract and then spreads throughout the body and is most common in the late summer and early fall.  It is contagious, but can also develop as a secondary infection after illnesses such as the measles or chicken pox.  There is no treatment for viruses, so the attending physician will prescribe medications to ease the side effects of it and the patient usually makes a full recovery in a week to ten days.

Bacterial Meningitis is a much more severe illness and can cause long-term issues such as brain damage, deafness, blindness and seizures.  It is very contagious and spread through direct contact with a carrier or by close proximity (a wet cough can spread the disease).  This infection is treatable with antibiotics and the medical community will react with great urgency as the infection spreads rapidly.  A person suffering from bacterial meningitis will be contagious for up to 24 hours after IV antibiotics are started.  A sub-category of this type of meningitis is one that occurs specifically from lime disease and it is usually not as severe and rarely fatal. However, the main strain of bacterial meningitis is extremely dangerous and can be fatal.

Fungal Meningitis is the very deadly strain that has been in the news so often of late.  It is most common for people whose immune system is already weak such as those suffering from an auto-immune disorder or cancer.  It is caused by a type of yeast cell that is inhaled.  Early symptoms are general fatigue, a headache that won’t go away, blurry vision and confusion.  However, if untreated, those symptoms can turn to much more serious complications very quickly, such as severe dehydration, stroke, brain damage and seizures. The only treatment for Fungal Meningitis is massive doses of IV anti-fungal medications.  While most cases are caused by inhalation of an infected contaminate, the cases that we’re heard so much about in the news recently were caused by a contaminated steroid medication.  This medication was given to people for pain management at several locations around the country, most notably at St. Thomas Hospital’s Outpatient Neurosurgery Center. Almost 50,000 vials of that batch of steroid were sent out around the country.  Tennessee has had the most cases of the disease and some of those infected have died.

Amoebic Meningitis is extremely rare and often leads to death.  This infection is caused by an amoeba that thrives in stagnant waters, like ponds.  It is most common during the late summer months. If a person submerges their head in water carrying this particular type of amoeba, it can enter through their nose. Symptoms start out as vomiting and fever, but quickly progress to seizures and coma, usually resulting in death.  It is not contagious and treatment is rarely effective.

The only way to positively identify any type of meningitis infection is a spinal tap.  Fluid from the spinal cord is drawn up through a needle and sent to a lab for identification.  As it can take days to get a culture identified, physicians will also use CT scans, MRIs and secondary blood tests to support their suspicion of the infection in order to start the timely treatment so important in responding to meningitis.

If you or someone you love has been impacted by the 2012 Fungal Meningitis Outbreak, you need advice from a knowledgeable Tennessee Medical Malpractice Attorney to ensure your rights and recovery are protected.