Meningitis occurs when the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord become inflamed, typically due to an infection. Encephalitis occurs when the brain itself becomes inflamed. Although the two conditions seem similar, there are many differences between the two. This is further discussed below.
Meningitis is typically caused by bacterial infections, but it can also be caused by a viral infection, a fungal infection, parasites, certain kinds of cancer, an injury to the head or spine, or by taking some types of medicine.
Meningitis caused by bacterial infections is referred to as bacterial meningitis. It is one of the most life-threatening and serious kinds of meningitis. This is because symptoms can turn severe very quickly in bacterial meningitis and there are several serious complications that could occur, like stroke, hearing loss, and/or permanent brain damage. Bacterial meningitis typically occurs when bacteria travels through a person’s bloodstream and gets to the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Treatment is typically given immediately after diagnosis through intravenous antibiotics. This ensures recovery and helps prevent potential complications.
The most serious type of bacterial meningitis is pneumococcal meningitis. It is also one of the most common types of bacterial meningitis — around 6000 cases of pneumococcal meningitis are reported each year in the United States. Pneumococcal meningitis is caused by an infection of a bacteria called Streptococcus Pheumoniae. There are currently vaccines available to help fight against this type of meningitis.
Another type of meningitis is called viral meningitis. Viral meningitis is caused by viral infections, typically by a group of virus called enteroviruses. These viruses are easily spread because it enters the body via the mouth.
Encephalitis is typically caused by the same infections that can cause meningitis — namely bacterial infections, viral infections, or fungal infections. Unlike meningitis, which is typically caused by bacterial infections, the most common cause of encephalitis is viral infections. Most encephalitis cases in the United States are caused by enteroviruses, herpes simplex viruses, rabies virus, arboviruses, and sometimes Lyme disease.
It should be noted that more than 60% of encephalitis cases are undiagnosed. This is because symptoms of encephalitis are similar to flu symptoms and usually mild or nonexistent. Encephalitis symptoms — when present — include fever, headaches, confusion, seizures, and problems with senses and movement.
More mild cases of encephalitis can be treated with the same kinds of treatments for the flu. This includes lots of bed rest, fluids, and taking anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Typically, encephalitis is also treated through intravenous antiviral treatment made up of drugs like Acyclovir, Ganciclovir, and Foscarnet.
Those with more severe forms of encephalitis may need additional treatment at a hospital. This can include supportive care like breathing assistance or treatments like intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs, and anticonvulsant medications. One may also need continued treatment after recovering from encephalitis. These treatments include therapies like physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and/or psychotherapy. The kind of therapy (or therapies) one receives is typically dependant on the type and/or severity of the complications a patient suffered from having encephalitis.
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