Meningitis: 10 Common Symptoms of This Dangerous Disease

Meningitis is an infection that affects the meninges, the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by bacterial, viral, or (in rare cases) fungal infections.

Bacterial meningitis is the most severe of the three types, is contagious and can be fatal if not treated immediately. In the United States, it is most commonly caused by the bacteria Neissera meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Viral meningitis, the most common form, may be caused by enteroviruses including influenza virus and herpesviruses.

Anyone can get meningitis, but those at higher risk are: very young children, adolescents, the elderly and individuals with a compromised immune system. You can protect yourself against meningitis by getting vaccinated and practicing good hygiene.

It’s also important to recognize the symptoms of meningitis so that you can get treated right away. Here are the common symptoms of this dangerous disease.

10. Sudden high fever with cold hands and feet

When the body is infected, the immune system defends it by increasing body temperature to ward off bacteria and viruses, which typically thrive at temperatures of 98.6°F. Within 3-7 days of being exposed to the infection, your body develops a high fever, which is typically defined as being 100.4°F or higher.

The body also prioritizes by protecting the internal organs from damage from the infection first. So, the flow of blood to the extremities, such as hands and feet, slows down.  Although the rest of your body may be burning up, if it is accompanied by cold hands and feet, then this is a red flag for meningitis.

Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com
Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

9. Stiff neck

Since meningitis causes inflammation of the meninges, this is accompanied by swelling. It’s this swelling that results in the stiffness and discomfort that one may feel in the back of their neck. It may be painful to look down (which requires stretching the back of the neck) when the lining of the spinal cord is swollen.

Viral meningitis most often brings on a stiff neck. So, if you are experiencing a fever along with an unexplained stiff neck, it’s best to seek professional help.

Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com
Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

8. Severe headaches

Headaches are one of the top three most common symptoms of meningitis and may be the first symptom to present itself. All forms of the infection—bacterial, viral, fungal—may cause headaches.

However, the headaches that are caused by meningitis are not your typical headache. Rather, they are extremely painful and won’t go away despite taking painkillers. This is because they are due to the inflammation of the brain’s lining. If you notice that you have a persistent headache, especially one that is accompanied by other symptoms, please seek help immediately.

tab62 / Shutterstock.com
tab62 / Shutterstock.com
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