Meningitis v Encephalitis

Infections in the brain and spinal cord can lead to dangerous inflammation. As a result of the inflammation, a wide range of symptoms can occur. These can include fever, headache, seizures, changes in behavior, and confusion. In the worst cases, it can also lead to brain damage, stroke, or death.

Meningitis occurs when you have an infection in the meninges, or membranes, that surround your brain and spinal cord. Encephalitis occurs whenever your brain itself is inflamed. Though these two conditions are closely related, there are many distinguishing characteristics of each.


Meningitis is most often caused by bacterial infections, but it can also be the result of a virus, fungal infection, parasite, some types of cancer, a traumatic injury to the head or spine, or a reaction to certain medications.

Bacterial meningitis is the most dangerous form of meningitis. It is caused by several different types of bacteria that are able to travel through the blood stream to the brain. Complications of bacterial meningitis include stroke, hearing loss, and permanent brain damage. Treatment for bacterial meningitis usually requires immediate intravenous antibiotics to reach a full recovery and prevent further complications.

Pneumococcal meningitis is the most common form of meningitis as well as the most serious. About 6,000 cases of pneumococcal meningitis are reported in the United States every year. It is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia, and there are now immunizations available for most strains of this bacteria.

Viral meningitis isn’t as life-threatening as bacterial meningitis. It sometimes subsides on its own in a few weeks. Viral meningitis is most commonly caused by enteroviruses, which are viruses that enter the body through the mouth and travel to the brain before multiplying. These kinds of viruses are easily transmitted through direct contact with an infected person or object.


Encephalitis can be caused by the same infections that cause meningitis, but up to 60% of encephalitis cases remain undiagnosed. This is because, in most patients, the symptoms can be mild or even nonexistent, so it is extremely difficult to diagnose. Whenever symptoms are present, they are usually flu-like, such as a fever and severe headache. Encephalitis can also cause confused thinking, seizures, and problems with senses and movement.

Most cases diagnosed in the United States are caused by enteroviruses, herpes simplex viruses, rabies virus, arboviruses like West Nile, and rarely, Lyme disease. Viral infections are the most common cause of the condition.

If the case is mild, treatment is usually the same as having the flu. It will mainly consist of bed rest, plenty of fluids, and anti-inflammatory drugs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen to relieve headaches and fever. However, most cases will require intravenous antiviral treatments. Antiviral drugs that are commonly used include Acyclovir, Ganciclovir, and Foscarnet.

People with severe encephalitis usually require additional supportive care at the hospital. This can include breathing assistance, intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs, and anticonvulsant medications. Additionally, it may also be necessary to receive therapy after the initial illness, depending on the type and severity of the complications. After recovering from encephalitis, you might need physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychotherapy, or a combination of several.

Featured Image: depositphotos/Syda_Productions

Posted on May 5, 2023