Meningitis is a clinical syndrome that may be self-limited or life-threatening and may be the result of numerous infectious as well as noninfectious processes. It describes the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The clinical features are fever, petechial rash (only in the mericoccal form), vomiting, trembling, seizures, stiff neck and headache.
In its early stages, meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but once it invades the blood, death may occur within 24 hours. Complications are common, especially when the diagnosis is delayed or treatment is inadequate. Collection of fluid in the subdural area, abscess formation, hydrocephalus, and various types of neurological problems, along with mental retardation, are some of the serious consequences. Preventive vaccines are available.
Infectious meningitis comes in two common forms: viral meningitis is relatively mild; bacterial meningitis, chiefly transmitted via coughing and sneezing, is life-threatening. Meningococcal meningitis is the most common form, causing epidemics. It has been causing increasing concern in recent years owing to its changing patterns and the rise in prevalence in several parts of the world where it was previously not considered to be a public health problem.
In 1983, 4,000 people of 40,000 infected people died in a meningitis outbreak. In 1996, 10,000 people on the Ivory Coast and in Nigeria died in a 3 month bacterial meningitis epidemic which infected 100,000. Children, the elderly, and women of childbearing age are most likely to die from meningitis. Numerous cases of meningitis have been reported in 14 African countries, including Mali, Niger and Chad.