How long does meningitis last?
The type or causative factor, treatment and an early diagnosis of meningitis can dictate the prognosis and answer the question, ‘how long does meningitis last?’
The proper medical terminology for meningitis is determined by the cause of it. Meningitis is caused by viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms. This disease can be, but is not always, fatal for both children and adults alike and is, simply put, an infection of the meninges (the system of membranes which envelopes the brain and spinal cord). Meningitis presents itself in several different types. These are: Aseptic; cryptococcal; gram negative; H. influenza; carcinomatous (meningitis due to cancer); meningococcal; staphylococcal; syphilitic; pneumococcal; and tuberculous meningitis.
Viral infections that get better without treatment are the most common causes of meningitis. Viral meningitis will last anywhere from 5 to 14 days. Infections with bacteria, fungi, and protozoa are the next most common causes, however, meningitis has resulted from non-infectious causes.
The types of bacteria that cause meningitis vary by age groups. The most common bacteria that cause meningitis in newborns are group B streptococci. Neisseria meningitides tends to be the cause for the condition in older children, while adults usually have cultures with both N. meningitides and L. monocytogenes. Even though the question being looked at is ‘how long does meningitis last?’, which implicitly suggests that the condition is treatable, it must be noted that bacterial meningitis is extremely dangerous and usually result in death, with or without treatment. Acute bacterial meningitis must be treated as a medical emergency. It is fatal in 5% to 40% of children and 20% to 50% of adults and is caused by bacteria that usually spread from an ear or respiratory infection.
Viral infections are usually milder and tend to develop in the period of late summer to early fall, affecting mainly people under age 30. Viruses such as herpes simplex virus type 2, varicella zoster virus and enteroviruses usually cause an infection that can lead to meningitis. However, in these cases, the meningitis can be treated. Other causes include chemical irritation, drug allergies, fungi and tumors.
When considering a question like “how long does meningitis last?” one also has to delve into the issue of what signs and symptoms are noted and experienced. The symptoms of meningitis are many and varied. They usually come on very quickly and include fevers and chills, changes in mental status, nausea and vomiting, severe headache, irritability, bulging fontanelles (the soft spot on a babys skull) or poor feeding (in babies or children), sensitivity to light, stiffness in the neck and/or opisthotonos, decreased consciousness, and rapid breathing.
Treatment must be conducted with wide-spectrum antibiotics while other tests are being done and confirmed. Lumbar puncture, Ct or MRI scans, blood culture, chest x-ray, CSF examination for cell count, glucose and protein are among the tests used to determine the cause of, and/or rule out meningitis. Treatment is usually done while the patient is hospitalized. Even though it has been established that viral meningitis usually lasts up to 2 weeks, some long-term effects such as brain damage, loss of hearing and seizures can occur. Essentially, answering the question ‘how long does meningitis last?’ depend on the long-term effects and what caused it in the first place, and not necessarily the duration of active meningitis.