Strep meningitis refers to the enlargement or inflammation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. This swelling can trigger a severe headache, stiff neck and high fever. In scientific language, these membranes enveloping the brain are called ‘Meninges’, thus giving the illness its name: Meningitis. This form of the disease can occur in three types, be it viral, bacterial or fungal. Bacterial strep meningitis is the most life-threatening form and if left untreated can lead to whole-body paralysis, sepsis, stroke and even death.
Cause and symptoms of strep meningitis
Having strep meningitis in the system may be the cause for certain other illnesses, like blood infections, sinus infections, pneumonia. This bacterium is highly contagious and may come in contact with another person via coughing, sharing cosmetics, sneezing etc.
In strep meningitis, a bacterium, fungus, virus or parasite spreads through the bloodstream until it reaches the target organ i.e. brain or spinal cord. It tends to set base up in the membrane lining and slowly spreads through the vital body parts and develops into a much more advanced infection. The initial symptoms for meningitis mimic the symptoms of influenza which is usually just eyewash. Possible signs and symptoms include:
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and sudden high fever
- Confusion and stiffness in the body
- Stroke and seizures
- Lowered appetite or thirst
- Skin rash in extreme case
Type of strep meningitis
Meningitis can be broadly classified into three types.
Bacterial strep meningitis
Bacterial strep meningitis can be fatal within days if prompt treatment is not initiated. The bacteria enter the bloodstream and invade the meninges. This may also be triggered by a sinus infection or a skull fracture. Delayed action in extreme cases may result in permanent brain damage and even death. Several strains of bacteria that can cause acute strep meningitis which is Streptococcus pneumonia. This is known to cause bacterial meningitis in young children. “Neisseria meningitis” is yet another strain and a leading cause of bacterial strep meningitis. This is a highly contagious infection and is very common among teenagers, causing epidemics in boarding schools and colleges.
Viruses such as HIV and mumps are the root cause of viral meningitis. Although viral meningitis is mild and usually clears on its own, precautions should be taken before it becomes a case of chronic meningitis.
This mimics bacterial strep meningitis and isn’t quite contagious from person to person. It can be life-threatening if not treated with preventive antifungal medication.
The following factors can make a person more susceptible to develop strep meningitis:
- Compromised immune system – Diabetes, AIDS and other drugs that affect the immune system also make one more susceptible to strep meningitis. Spleen removal also increases the risk of acquiring strep meningitis.
- Alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking
- An early history of meningitis or a head injury
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Chronic liver and heart disease/ arthritis
- Skipping vaccinations
Meningitis bacteria or virus is usually spread through sneezing, kissing or sharing utensils or cosmetics. The following basic steps help prevent meningitis:
- Proper immunizations: Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) vaccine – This vaccine is recommended for adults and even children, including patients suffering from sickle cell disease or AIDS. A meningococcal conjugate vaccine is usually given between the ages of 12-14 years. For protection from pneumococcal bacteria ‘pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine’ (PPSV23) is usually given to adults and older children. It is also for those suffering from diabetes and heart diseases
- Work on your personal hygiene: Get into the habit of washing hands regularly before consumption of food especially after using the toilet or after spending long hours in public areas. Try not to share straws, toothbrushes, drinks etc.
- While sneezing make sure to cover your mouth and nose to prevent the infection from spreading.
- Maintain a healthy flora of your digestive tract by intake of fresh foods and vegetables coupled with regular exercise and optimum rest. During pregnancy take extra care and avoid cheese and unpasteurized milk.
Your treatment is also determined by the cause and symptoms of meningitis. There can be certain complications from meningitis causing seizures, vision and hearing loss, memory problems, brain damage, hydrocephalus, and migraine headaches. In the case of bacterial strep meningitis, immediate hospitalization should be the first step. It is usually treated with intravenous antibiotics and should be done on priority to prevent critical brain damage. On the other hand, fungal meningitis is usually treated with antifungal agents. Viral meningitis usually resolves on its own but in acute cases, it might require intravenous medications. In any case, it is very crucial to consult your doctor for timely investigations as there have been cases where people have fully recovered from strep meningitis without any complications while others have had memory loss issues and multiple neurological problems. It is thus very important to receive follow-up care after treatment from meningitis to prevent further damage from infection.