Brain Infection Facts
Our brain, the spinal cord, and its surrounding structures can become infected by a large spectrum of germs. Bacteria and viruses are the most common offenders. Parasites, fungi, and other organisms can infect the central nervous system (CNS), although more rarely.
- Location: The infecting germ causes an inflammation of the affected area. Depending on the location of the infection, different names are given to the diseases.
- Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, the surrounding three-layered membranes of the brain and spinal cord, and the fluid it is bathed in, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
- Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain itself.
- Myelitis actually means a spinal cord inflammation.
- Abscess is an accumulation of infectious material and offending microorganisms, and this can occur anywhere within the CNS.
- Type: Organisms may cause bacterial, viral, parasitic, fungal, or prion infections of the central nervous system.
- Usually, viral meningitis causes milder symptoms, requires no specific treatment, and goes away completely without complications. Viral infections are two to three times more common than bacterial infections.
- Bacterial meningitis is a very serious disease and may result in a learning disability, speech defects, hearing loss, seizures, loss of extremity function, permanent brain damage, and even death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, up to 15% of the survivors of bacterial meningitis remain with permanent complications and health issues, as described above.
- In the U.S., the overall incidence of bacterial meningitis decreased significantly since 1998, mostly as a result of widespread vaccination, from about 25,000 cases yearly to about 4,100 cases. About two-thirds of all cases are in children. Bacterial meningitis usually occurs in isolated cases without epidemics. It is more common in males than females and is more likely in late winter and early spring.
- Worldwide, bacterial meningitis is common. It continues to be a serious threat to global health. The most recent statistics published by the WHO in 2010 estimates that up to 170,000 annual deaths from bacterial meningitis occur worldwide. It particularly affects the African continent, with regular epidemics in sub-Saharan and West Africa, known as "the meningitis belt."
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017
Igor Boyarsky, DO, FACEP, FAAEM
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