Meningitis refers to inflammation, almost always caused by infection, of the membranes that cover the surface of the brain and spinal cord. Causes of meningitis include
  • Bacterial meningitis is perhaps the most common meningitis that is diagnosed, and generally the most dangerous to small children.
  • Viral meningitis or encephalitis is often a fairly benign illness, and may pass without the patient knowing what is happening or even seeing a physician. It is probably much more common than bacterial meningitis but generally escapes detection because it may present such a mild course of illness. There is no treatment for all but a few types of viral meningitis, notably those caused by the Herpes virus.
  • Fungal meningitis is rare but very serious and difficult to treat. Immune system compromise (cancer chemotherapy, HIV infection) is almost always present for this to arise.
  • Equally rare and just as dreadful is tuberculous menigitis, a rare presentation of tuberculosis in childhood.

Diagnosis of meningitis is by lumbar puncture or spinal tap. This procedure, while potentially frightening to parents, is safe and easy to do. In any doubtful situation where meningitis could be present, it is of utmost importance to do the lumbar puncture right away.

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