Sepsis and Meningitis
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the layer of tissue that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. The three types of meningitis most commonly heard of are bacterial, viral, and fungal. You can also get parasitic meningitis and meningitis from other causes, such as from cancer, tuberculosis, even chemicals, to name a few.
Meningitis due to an infection can cause a serious condition called sepsis. Sometimes called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body's often deadly response to infection or injury. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and rapid treatment for survival.
Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections, and viral infections like the flu. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with organ dysfunction and/or amputations. (What is the prognosis (outcome) with sepsis?)
What is Meningitis?
While there are several types of meningitis, this information section describes the three most common ones.
Bacterial meningitis is the most severe type of meningitis. One type, N meningitidis, is passed from person to person through bacteria (pathogens). According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), the most common types of bacteria that cause meningitis in the United States are Haemophilus influenzae (most often caused by type b, Hib), Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, Listeria monocytogenes (in newborns), and Neisseria meningitidis.
Statistics show that between 2003 and 2007, there were approximately 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis each year in the U.S. Five hundred cases per year result in death.
Viral infections are the most common cause of meningitis but viral meningitis is not usually as severe as bacterial meningitis and people generally get better without treatment.
Although anyone can come down with viral meningitis, children under five years old and people who have compromised immune systems, either from illness or medications taken to treat some diseases, are at higher risk of doing so.
Viral illnesses such as mumps and influenza (the flu) can lead to viral meningitis.
Fungal meningitis is the rarest of the three. For fungal meningitis to develop, a fungal infection must spread through the blood stream to the spinal cord. An outbreak of fungal meningitis began in September 2012 when contaminated medication was injected into the spinal cord of many patients. As with viral meningitis, the people at highest risk of developing fungal meningitis are those who are immunocompromised, such as people who have AIDS or who are being treated for cancer.
A fungal infection can occur by inhaling the fungus or by the fungus being introduced into the body. In the fall of 2012, several cases of fungal meningitis were reported in the United States that originated from an injected medication that had been contaminated during processing.