What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Usually, the inflammation is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Meningitis can be very serious, even life threatening, but it can also sometimes resolve on its own after a few weeks.

History of Meningitis

The origins of what we now know as meningitis is not known. It seems Hippocrates was aware of the existence of swelling of the membranes around the spinal cord and brain. We do know that in 1768, a report was released by Edinburgh physician, Sir Robert Whytt, about what was then called “dropsy in the brain.” Beginning in 1805 and for several years after, major outbreaks of meningitis were reported in Geneva, Europe, and the United States, until 1840, when Africa reported an epidemic of meningitis. Epidemics continued in Africa into the 20th century, killing almost all (90%) of those who became infected.

With the advent of penicillin, the death rates of viral meningitis began to decline, and in the late 1900s, presumably due to the use of vaccinations, cases of bacterial meningitis began to decline as well. I believe that the decline was also due to better sanitation, cleaner environment and better nutrition in general.

When and How was Meningitis discovered

First known as “cerebro-spinal meningitis,” the infection was identified by two Swiss physicians in 1805, when a village in Switzerland was infected, claiming 33 lives. This is the first recorded case of meningitis. It was not until 1878 that the cause of meningitis was known. A German physician by the name of Anton Weichselbaum identified the bacteria, meningoccocus, as the cause of meningitis. He used the “new technology”, the microscope, to make this identification. To confirm his theory, he injected the bacteria into animals that then the animals contracted the illness.

How many Types of Meningitis Are There

There are five types of meningitis:

  • Bacterial meningitis. The most common strains of bacteria that can cause meningitis are:
    • Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus)
    • Neisseria meningitides (meningococcus)
    • Haemphilus influenza (haemphilus)
    • Listeria monocytogenes (listeria)
  • Viral meningitis
  • Parasitic meningitis
  • Fungal meningitis
  • Non-infectious meningitis, including:
    • Chronic meningitis
    • Allergic responses to drugs
    • Some types of cancer
    • Some inflammatory diseases, such as lupus

How Does Meningitis Enter the Body

Meningitis is really a symptom of the cause, whether it be bacteria, viral, fungal, a parasite, or an allergic reaction to drugs or other disease. Meningitis—literally, inflammation of the meninges, or the membranes around the spinal cord and brain—can occur in several ways:

  • Bacteria can enter the body in any of the “usual” ways, causing an upper respiratory infection, or infection of the ear or sinuses. It is when the bacteria enter the bloodstream and make their way to the brain or spinal cord that meningitis can occur. If the bacteria attack the meninges directly, meningitis also occurs. Bacteria can also be picked up through food or from the soil, or from wild or domesticated animals.
  • Viral meningitis is spread through contact with the virus.
  • Vaccination is another way of introduction, bypassing the mucus membrane and injection into the muscle/blood system exposure has been implicated
  • Fungal meningitis is dangerous to persons with compromised immune systems, and is contracted by inhaling yeast cells in the air.

What Part of the Body Does Meningitis

Meningitis is literally, inflammation of the meninges, or the membranes around the spinal cord and brain. When a person is diagnosed with meningitis, it means that the delicate membranes around the spinal cord and/or brain are inflamed. 

How Does Meningitis Spread

Meningitis is spread through the transmission of bacteria or viruses in tiny droplets through the air—by coughing, sneezing, or shaking hands with someone who just coughed or sneezed the bacteria or virus onto their own hand. It can also be spread through animals or dirt that carries the fungal spore or parasite. There are many studies on how the use of vaccines also can introduce meningitis. Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, pediatrician and author of many books noted the spread of meningitis in his article called, Beware of HIB Vaccine. “The authoritative Centers for Disease Control publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, reported in its August 21, 1987 edition that invasive Hib disease was occurring in children who previously had been vaccinated with that immunizing agent. When the vaccine was introduced in 1985, the FDA asked its manufacturers to conduct post—marketing studies. As a result, the FDA, CDC, vaccine manufacturers and individual vaccine investigators have received spontaneous reports of these vaccine failures.”

Japan also documented the rise of meningitis in 1989 after the combined MMR vaccine was introduced. Within 3 months of recommending the vaccine, they dropped the MMR vaccine and opted for the single dose measles vaccine because children were experiencing problems. They found that that the rate of children having severe reactions, including meningitis, was 2 thousand times higher than the normal rate of meningitis. They again considered the combination vaccine in 1991, decided against it. The Japanese government decided not to make the measles or mumps vaccine mandatory. Dr Hiroki Nakatani, director of the Infectious Disease Division at Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare said that giving individual vaccines cost twice as much as MMR ‘but we believe it is worth it!”

Dr. Robert Mendelsohn does recommend that parents seek medical attention if a baby runs a fever the first few weeks of life as the blood brain barrier is not intact for the first 6 weeks after birth. A child’s immune system is underdeveloped and will not produce antibodies until about 6 months of age so they may need medical attention. Most babies do run fevers around 4-6 months of life as they start to teeth and crawl. That would be their immune system starting to respond appropriately.

What is the Duration of Meningitis

How long meningitis lasts depends on the type and severity of the infection. It can happen very quickly, and can last from 2 days to several weeks.
Bacterial meningitis can be very serious. It can progress very quickly, even leading to death within a few hours. 
Viral meningitis can last several weeks, but usually passes.
Chronic meningitis can last a month or longer.