Meningitis can be described as a condition which leads to inflammation in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. A potentially fatal condition, if left untreated it can also lead to permanent brain damage. Meningitis can affect anyone, but commonly occurs in infants and children. Affected ones can develop fever, weakness, headache, drowsiness, lack of energy, stiff neck, fits etc.
According to experts, the condition can be prevented by taking timely vaccination as suggested by the doctor, following good personal hygiene, having a well-balanced diet, covering the mouth while coughing and sneezing, and taking utmost care during pregnancy.
“Meningitis can be bacterial, viral or fungal, with the bacterial form causing severe issues even after recovery, especially when not treated promptly. Brain damage or even death can occur in such cases,” says Dr. Pradeep Mahajan, Regenerative Medicine Researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Navi Mumbai/Mumbai.
Symptoms of Meningitis
“One having meningitis will exhibit signs such as fever, being sick all the time, having a headache, rash, a stiff neck, drowsiness, seizures (fits), confusion, sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting, and poor appetite,” says Dr Pavan Pai, Interventional Neurologist, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road.
Causes of Meningitis
Dr Pai says that drinking too much alcohol, diabetes, AIDS, use of immunosuppressant drugs, skipping vaccinations, certain bacteria such streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) and viruses (herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps) may lead to this condition.
“Before starting the treatment, neuroimaging such as MRI brain with contrast followed by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is necessary to delineate the causes such as bacterial, viral, fungal or tubercular CSF. CSF cultures helps in selection of targeted antibiotic or antiviral therapy. In certain cases meninges biopsy must be performed to ascertain the diagnosis,” says Dr Pai.
* Whenever there is suspicion of meningitis patient has to be presumptively started on antibiotic and antiviral doses even before CSF analysis is performed.
* Once the CSF picture is clear then proper treatment as per the cause should be continued for at least three weeks and CSF analysis must be repeated to look for improvement.
* In case of Tubercular meningitis anti-TB medicines and steroids must be started to prevent complications such as vasculitic strokes and hydrocephalus (excess fluid collection in ventricles).
TB meningitis treatment lasts for longer period upto 18 months. In cases of hydrocephalus, neurosurgical procedures like VP shunting must be done as a life saving procedure.
Stem cell therapy shows promise
While early diagnosis and prompt pharmacological treatment remains the mainstay of management, there is a need for more effective treatments that help in reducing the sequelae of meningitis.
“A recent transplantation performed by German scientists using allogeneic stem cells has been attracting attention. A 19-year old patient was successfully treated with stem cells taken from a matching donor, the infection was controlled, and nearly a full neurological recovery was achieved. This was possible due to the various properties of the stem cells such as the ability to reduce inflammation, control infection, restore the immune system, stimulate the reparative mechanisms of the body, and provide a healthy pool of cells to regenerate lost tissues,” says Dr. Pradeep Mahajan, Regenerative Medicine Researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Navi Mumbai/Mumbai.
“Research is being conducted on umbilical cord as a source of stem cells, as well. This would be an even more non-invasive source as the cord is usually discarded after the birth of the child,” he adds.