The Differences Between Meningitis and Encephalitis

The Differences Between Meningitis and Encephalitis

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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The Meningococcal Vaccine: An Overview

Meningococcal Vaccine

One of the most effective ways to prevent meningitis is to get vaccinated. One of these vaccines is called the meningococcal vaccine. According to the United State’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two kinds of meningococcal vaccines in the U.S. The first type of meningococcal vaccine is the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine or Menomune, and the second type is the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, or the Menactra, the Menveo, or the MenHibrix.

How does the vaccine work?

The meningococcal vaccine was developed using the harmless parts of the meningococcal bacteria. When the vaccine is inserted into your bloodstream, your body will produce antibodies to protect you against these harmless bacterias. These antibodies will then be able to protect your body, later on, should you contract meningitis.

Who needs the vaccine?

The meningococcal vaccine is especially recommended for those who are 16 to 21 years old as they are most at risk. However, most people should receive the vaccine.

Since it is only effective for five years, all 11 to 12-year-olds should receive either one of the meningococcal vaccine — the Menactra or Menveo. A booster should then be given once someone turns 16. If you have yet to receive a booster before you head to college, it is recommended that you do. In fact, a booster for the meningococcal vaccine or receiving the meningococcal vaccine for many colleges/universities.

It is also recommended that you receive the meningococcal vaccine if you:

  • Are going to live in a dorm or residence
  • Are in the military and have to live in military base camps
  • Have a damaged spleen or have had your spleen removed
  • Have an immune system disorder, such as a complement component deficiency
  • Work in a lab where you are consistently or can be exposed to the meningococcal bacteria
  • Traveling or living in countries where bacterial meningitis caused by the meningococcal bacteria is common
  • Was exposed to meningitis because of an outbreak

Is there a risk in getting vaccinated?

Like anything, there are some risks to receiving the meningococcal vaccine. However, the risk is extremely small when it comes to the vaccine causing serious harm or death. The most common/serious side effect after one receives the vaccine are brief fainting spells or seizure-like movements. The fainting/seizure-like movements could cause falls, which could result in injuries. As such, if you or someone else feels faint after receiving the vaccination, sit or lie down for around 15 minutes to prevent any falls and injuries.

Mild side effects that most people experience after receiving the meningococcal vaccine is redness, pain, or swelling of the skin/muscles around the area where the shot was received. Some people experience slight fever after receiving the vaccine. Both these side effects last only around one to two days and are typically not that serious.

A serious allergic reaction to the meningococcal vaccine that results in complications or even death is very unlikely, but not impossible. As such, one should be aware of any side effects that occur after receiving the vaccination that is similar to symptoms of an allergic reaction. These symptoms include hives, swelling of the face and/or throat, dizziness, weakness, and/or a quickened heartbeat. Allergic reaction symptoms typically will develop in a few minutes or in around an hour after receiving the vaccine.

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Bacterial Meningitis: Risks and Prevention

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis typically occurs when the bacteria travels through a person’s bloodstream and get into the membranes around the brain and spinal cord, causing it to become inflamed. It is one of the most dangerous types of meningitis because symptoms can become severe very quickly. If left untreated, bacterial meningitis can lead to serious complications that could be life-threatening.

Risk Factors of Bacterial Meningitis

Although there is no direct cause of bacterial meningitis, there are some factors that could increase one’s chance of getting bacterial meningitis. Some of these factors are:

  • Not receiving vaccinations

If you are not up to date with your vaccinations, you may have a higher chance of developing meningitis.

  • Age

If you are under 20 years old, you may have a higher chance of developing meningitis.

  • Living in community setting

Because bacteria typically spreads through the respiratory system, bacteria usually spread quicker in places with a larger number of people. Those who live in dorms, military bases, or child care facilities may have a higher chance of developing bacterial meningitis.

  • Pregnancy

Those who are pregnant have a higher chance of contracting a bacteria called listeriosis. This type of bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis. As well, listeriosis can put the unborn infant at risk as the bacteria can pass through the placental barrier and could result in the baby being infected. This could result in the baby being stillborn or die soon after birth.

  • Weak immune system  

A number of things could cause a weak immune system. Factors and/or diseases like AIDS, diabetes, having one’s spleen removed, or taking immunosuppressant drugs could all result in a weaker immune system. Having a weakened immune system makes one more privy to infections, and thus may increase the risk of contracting bacterial meningitis.

Prevent Bacterial Meningitis

Just as there are factors that could put one at risk of bacterial meningitis, there are steps one can take to help prevent themselves from bacterial meningitis.

  • Keeping up to date with vaccinations

The most effective way to prevent bacterial meningitis is to receive vaccinations. There are several vaccinations that one can receive to help reduce the risk of meningitis.  

  • Washing your hands

Washing your hands often can reduce your risk of several diseases, including bacterial meningitis. It is important to wash your hands before you eat, after you use the washroom, after you spend time in public crowds, and after you pet animals. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and that you don’t use antibacterial soap.

  • Practicing good hygiene

Meningitis is typically caused by infections that are contagious. Bacterias that can cause meningitis are usually spread via coughing, sneezing, kissing, and/or sharing things like utensils, toothbrush, lip balms, drinks, food, and/or cigarettes. To prevent bacterial meningitis, it is recommended that you avoid doing these things and practice good hygiene. Additionally, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of bacteria.

  • Maintain a healthy immune system

Because meningitis can occur due to a weak immune system, it is important to take steps to ensure you maintain a strong and healthy immune system. One can do so by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest/sleep.

  • Be careful with food

This is especially true for those who are pregnant. Pregnant people are at a higher risk of contracting listeriosis, which can cause bacterial meningitis and other complications regarding the unborn baby. It is important to cook meat to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 74 degrees Celsius. As well, it is important to keep an eye on what kind of cheese one is eating– those who are pregnant should not consume dairy products made with unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized milk is more likely to carry listeriosis and/or other bacterias.

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11 Common Terms About Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is one of the more dangerous types of meningitis because the symptoms turn severe rather quickly and can lead to several complications. If someone who has bacterial meningitis does not receive treatment, it could prove to be fatal in just a number of days. As such, it is important for one to familiarize themselves with the signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis. To do so, one must understand some of the terms that are associated with signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis.

Below are 11 terms that are commonly used when talking about bacterial meningitis.

Meninges – The membranes that are around the brain and spinal cord. This is what is inflamed when someone is suffering from meningitis.

Meningococcal – A kind of bacterial meningitis. There is also a vaccine to help prevent this specific kind of meningitis by the same name.

Fontanel – The soft spot on the top of an infant’s head. If the infant has meningitis, one of the symptoms is a bulge on this spot of the head.

Pneumococcus – A type of bacteria that is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States. There is a vaccine that helps prevent/fight against this specific type of bacteria. Cases of bacterial meningitis caused by pneumococcus have gone down significantly since the vaccine was created.

Listeria – A type of bacteria usually found in some soft cheeses, hot dogs, and lunch meats. They typically affect those who have weakened immune systems, such as pregnant people, newborns, and elderlies. Listeria is especially dangerous for those who are pregnant because this type of bacteria can travel through the placental barrier. This could cause infections in the unborn baby and could result in the baby being birthed as a stillborn or the baby may pass away shortly following birth.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Medications – The kinds of medication and/or painkillers that are unsafe for people with untreated meningitis to use. It is not recommended that you take these kinds of medicine if you suspect you may have meningitis as well. These medications include regular off-the-shelf drugs like aspirin.

If you have untreated meningitis or you suspect you may have meningitis, it is recommended that you take acetaminophen to help reduce fever and/or body aches.

Lumbar Puncture – A lumbar puncture is typically referred to as a spinal tap. This is the most definitive way for doctors/physicians to determine whether or not someone has meningitis. Doctors will analyze the cerebrospinal fluid after the spinal tap. People with meningitis will typically have lower levels of sugar, an increased count in white blood cell, and increased level of protein in their cerebrospinal fluid.

Polymerase Chain Reaction Amplification – This is a DNA-based test that helps health professionals find out the specific cause of the patient’s meningitis. This allows the doctor to determine the proper route of treatment.

Mastoids – These are the bones that connect the middle of the ear to behind the outside of the ear. This part of the ear can sometimes become infected which can cause meningitis.

Intravenous Antibiotics – This is how one treats bacterial meningitis. Because bacterial meningitis tends to need to be treated as quickly as possible, antibiotics are typically delivered through the vein (intravenous, or IV). This helps lower the risk of further complications that can be caused by bacterial meningitis.

Unpasteurized Milk – This kind of milk typically contain a type of bacteria — listeria — that can cause bacterial meningitis. This is also true for cheeses that are made with this type of milk. For those who are pregnant, it is typically recommended for them to pay close attention to what type of cheese they ingest.

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Meningitis Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Meningitis Symptoms

Meningitis is typically caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. Meningitis caused by viral infections can usually be recovered from without any treatment, but meningitis caused by bacterial or fungal infections could be life-threatening if not properly treated. However, no matter what type of meningitis one has, the symptoms are largely similar.

Today, many are vaccinated against bacterias that may cause meningitis but it is still important for one to know the symptoms in case you do get meningitis. Below are the symptoms of meningitis.

Meningitis Symptoms

Those who have meningitis might not know it at first as early symptoms are pretty similar to flu symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing the first five symptoms listed below, it is strongly suggested that you seek medical attention immediately.

Symptoms of Meningitis include:

  • Sudden onset of high fever
  • Intense headache
  • Confusion
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Tension in the neck, or a stiff neck
  • Increased sensitivity to light/bright things
  • Sleepiness/tiredness
  • Seizures
  • Delirium

Newborns and/or infants who have meningitis may display different symptoms than those listed above (which is more typical for adults with meningitis). Symptoms of newborns and/or infants who have meningitis includes:

  • High fever
  • Nonstop crying
  • Sleepiness/tiredness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Inactivity
  • Poor response to feeding
  • A bulge in the baby’s fontanel, or the soft spot on the head
  • Stiffness/tension in the baby’s body and/or neck

Diagnosing Meningitis

Meningitis is typically diagnosed based on the patient’s medical history, a physical exam, and diagnostic tests for meningitis. Doctors typically begin by checking for infection by examining the head, ears, throat, and the skin along the spine. Your doctor could also draw blood and examine it to see if any bacteria or microorganisms are growing there. X-ray and CT scans may be taken of the patient’s head, chest, or sinus. This is to check for any swelling or inflammation that can help your doctor determine where the infection may be.

A definitive diagnosis of meningitis can only be made after a spinal tap, or lumbar puncture. Your doctor will then study your spinal fluid for signs of meningitis and diagnose you accordingly.

Meningitis Treatment

Meningitis caused by viral infections can be typically recovered from without treatment. However, bacterial or fungal meningitis is much more serious and requires treatment to prevent further complications or life-threatening situations. Bacterial meningitis is typically treated with antibiotics via IV and fungal meningitis is usually treated with antifungal medicine. To determine what type of meningitis you have, a doctor or physician usually has to extract your spinal fluid and test it.

If you think you may have meningitis, contact your doctor or physician right away. Be sure to clearly describe your symptoms and how severe they are. If your doctor says that it won’t be necessary for you to see them right away, rest as much as you can before your appointment. Drink fluids and take acetaminophen to help with the fever and/or aches. Don’t take aspirin or any other drugs that could be considered nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Do not go to school or work as you could be contagious.

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Four Different Types of Meningitis

Types of Meningitis

When the membranes around the brain and spinal cord are inflamed, it is known as meningitis. There are actually several different types of meningitis depending on the kind of infection that has caused it. However, sometimes meningitis could occur due to noninfectious causes, such as chemical reactions, drug allergies, cancer, and inflammatory diseases like sarcoidosis.

Treatment can vary depending on the type of infection. The first step to treating meningitis is typically identifying what type of meningitis one has. Below are some types of meningitis that are caused by infections.

Viral Meningitis

This is the most common type of meningitis to occur in the United States. Viral meningitis is caused by viral infections and is usually characterized by more mild symptoms than the other types of meningitis. Those with viral meningitis can typically recover without any treatment.

In the U.S., enteroviruses are typically the cause of the viral infections which, may lead to viral meningitis. Other viruses like herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps, and/or West Nile can also cause viral meningitis.

Bacterial Meningitis

Unlike viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis is characterized by more severe symptoms and cannot be recovered from without treatment. Bacterial meningitis is typically caused by bacterial infections, or when bacteria enters the bloodstream and affects the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis can also occur when the bacteria enters into the meninges due to an ear/sinus infection, a skull fracture, or a surgery.

A number of bacteria can result in bacterial meningitis. Below are some of the most common bacterias:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus)

This bacteria most commonly is found in infected infants, young children, and adults. A vaccine is available to help people reduce the chances of getting infected by this kind of bacteria.

  • Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus)

This bacteria most commonly infect teenagers and young adults. A vaccine is available to help people reduce the chances of getting infected by this kind of bacteria. It should be noted that this bacteria is highly contagious.

  • Haemophilus influenzae (haemophilus)

This bacteria used to be the leading cause of bacterial meningitis that developed in children in the U.S. However, a vaccine which was developed to combat this bacteria has helped reduce the number of bacterial meningitis cases caused by this bacteria.

  • Listeria monocytogenes (listeria)

This bacteria most commonly infect individuals with weaker immune systems, like pregnant women, newborns, and the elderly. This bacteria can be typically found in some cheeses, hot dogs, and lunch meats.

This type of bacterial infection is most dangerous for those who are pregnant because listeria can cross the placental barrier. As such, this type of infection in someone pregnant could cause a baby to be stillborn or pass away a little after birth.

Fungal Meningitis

This type of meningitis is pretty uncommon, however, it can be life-threatening if not treated with antifungal medication as soon as possible. It could also cause another type of meningitis called chronic meningitis. Fungal meningitis is not contagious. The most common form of fungal meningitis is called cryptococcal meningitis.

Fungal meningitis typically occurs in those who have diseases that cause deficiencies in one’s immune system like AIDS.

Chronic Meningitis

Chronic meningitis is typically caused by fungal meningitis. This occurs when organisms that grow slowly, like fungi, get into the membranes and fluids that are around one’s brain. Unlike most types of meningitis, chronic meningitis symptoms develop over several weeks instead of hours or days. However, the symptoms of chronic meningitis are the same as other types of meningitis.

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Bacterial Meningitis Overview: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, & Prevention

Bacterial Meningitis

Meningitis is when the membranes around the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. One can typically recover from meningitis on their own without treatment, after a few weeks — however meningitis could turn life-threatening, depending on how severe the infection is, and one might need treatment via antibiotics. It is typically caused by viral infections, however, bacterial infections can also cause it. When meningitis is caused by a bacterial infection, it’s referred to as bacterial meningitis.

Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis

Most people who have meningitis might not know it at first because early symptoms are similar to that of flu symptoms. However, these symptoms can worsen or develop into other symptoms within a few hours or around two days. For those older than two years of age, symptoms can include:

  • Abrupt fever, typically in high temperatures
  • Tension in the neck, or a stiff neck
  • An intense headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Constant sleepiness/tiredness
  • Trouble waking up from sleep
  • Increased sensitivity to light/bright things
  • Not feeling hungry or thirsty for long periods of time
  • Skin rash

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, like an abrupt fever, tension in your neck, an intense headache, nausea and/or vomiting, or confusion, it is suggested that you seek medical attention immediately. Unlike viral meningitis, which one can recover from without treatment, bacterial meningitis can develop quickly and is a lot more serious as it can turn life-threatening in only a handful of days. Bacterial meningitis needs to be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.

What Causes Bacterial Meningitis

As previously mentioned, bacterial meningitis is essentially meningitis that’s been caused by a bacterial infection. As such, bacterial meningitis occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and travels to the brain and spinal cord. In rare occasions, bacterial meningitis could occur after bacteria invades the meninges via ear or sinus infections, a skull fracture, or after one undergoes certain surgeries. The bacteria that cause meningitis include Streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitides, Haemophilus influenza, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Although there is no direct cause of bacterial meningitis, there are several things which could put you at a higher risk of developing the disease. These are:

  • Not receiving vaccinations when you’re supposed to.
  • How old you are — most people that develop bacterial meningitis are under 20 years old.
  • Living in community settings like dorms, military bases, and child care facilities. This is because bacteria tend to spread more easily amongst bigger groups of people.
  • Being pregnant.
  • Having a weak or affected immune system.

Treating Bacterial Meningitis

Though it was previously mentioned that meningitis usually goes away without treatment, this is not true for bacterial meningitis. When it is diagnosed, bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics via an IV as well as cortisone medications. The type of antibiotic used depends on which bacteria caused the infection. This ensures recovery for the patient and also minimizes the risk of complications that could occur, like brain swelling and/or seizures.

Another treatment could be to drain the infected sinuses or mastoids in order to rid the patient of the infection as quickly as possible.

Preventing Bacterial Meningitis

Just like there are some factors that could put one at a higher risk, there are also several steps one can take to help minimize one’s risk of developing bacterial meningitis. These include:

  • Washing your hands.
  • Practicing good hygiene, like not sharing food/drinks, lip balm, or toothbrushes with anyone.
  • Managing a strong and healthy immune system by getting enough sleep/rest, exercising regularly, and keeping a healthy diet.
  • If you’re pregnant, be especially cautious about cooking meat — make sure it is always cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit or about 74 degrees Celsius. As well, avoid drinking unpasteurized milk.

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