Is Meningitis Behind Your Stiff Neck & High Fever?

by Dr. Jonathan D'Souza

Have you been suffering from a stiff neck for the last few days? Are you ignoring it, attributing the pain to a muscle strain? Could it be something else?

We are all so busy in our lives that we sometimes ignore common signs and symptoms, thinking they’ll go away on their own. But a stiff neck might indicate a serious infection, tumor or some other problem that might not be related to the neck at all. Did you know that one of the most prominent symptom of meningitis is a stiff neck?

Every year, more than 1.2 million people are affected by meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is the most severe form and it causes approximately 120,000 deaths globally each year. Held every year on 24 April, World Meningitis Day is recognized to raise the global profile of meningitis, emphasize the importance of vaccination, and provide support to those dealing with the disease. We tell you more about it.

What Is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes (meninges) that cover the spinal cord and brain. Often manifesting itself with flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fever and a stiff neck, meningitis can be caused by a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. Depending on the cause, meningitis may get better on its own within a couple of weeks or may need urgent antibiotic treatment in life-threatening cases.

Watch Out For These Symptoms
One or more symptoms of meningitis may develop over a few hours or over a period of one or two days. They could be:

  • Stiff neck
  • Throbbing headache
  • High fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Impaired concentration
  • Skin rashes
  • Sleepiness

Causes Of Meningitis
Based on the source of infection, meningitis can be classified into three types:

1. Bacterial Meningitis
This is contracted when the bacteria enter the bloodstream and find their way to the brain or spinal cord. Bacteria may also invade the meninges as a result of ear or sinus infection or a skull fracture. Streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influenza, Neisseria meningitides and Listeria monocytogenes are some of the bacterial strains that can cause it.

2. Viral Meningitis
A group of viruses known as enteroviruses (that causes stomach infections) is responsible for causing viral meningitis. Most cases are mild and often clear on their own. It is more prevalent during late summer and early fall. The herpes simplex virus, West Nile virus and HIV can also cause viral meningitis.

 3. Fungal Meningitis
A non-contagious form, it resembles bacterial meningitis. Cryptococcal meningitis—a fungal form of the disease—affects people with a weak immune system such as those suffering from AIDS. If not treated with an antifungal medication, it may be life-threatening.

Questions To Ask Yourself
1. Do you have high fever, a headache, a stiff neck and difficulty seeing bright lights for the last couple of days?
2. Have you been spending time with someone with a meningitis infection?
3. Do you have an ear or sinus infection? People with chronic infections are more susceptible to meningitis.
4. Have you been traveling to a region that has experienced an outbreak of epidemics?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, seek a doctor’s opinion immediately to rule out the possibility of meningitis.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page and read about more Diseases & Conditions here.

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