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Why is meningitis so dangerous? What is affected? And what is the treatment for it?

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There are actually several different types of meningitis. The most common ones are bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis; of these two, bacterial meningitis is the most deadly.

There are membranes that surround and protect the spinal cord and brain, protecting the central nervous system together with cerebrospinal fluid; these membranes are called meninges. Meningitis, then, is an infection of these membranes which can be caused by various strains of bacteria: streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, neisseria meningitidis, haemophilus influenzae, and listeria monocytogenes (among others).

Once bacteria infects the meninges, a critical life situation is present. The infection can then cause swelling as well as pus in the meninges, which thickens the cerebrospinal fluid. This can lead to paralysis, blindness, deafness, seizures, and intellectual impairments. Therefore, it is crucial to obtain necessary antibiotics upon diagnosis to kill the bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics are typically delivered intravenously, and sometimes corticosteroids (depending on the bacteria) are also employed. These drugs help to reduce brain swelling and seizures.

Various forms of bacteria-causing meningitis are spread in differing ways. Some are spread through food which is contaminated. Others are spread through coughing and sneezing. Some others are spread through childbirth via infected mothers.

There are also risk factors that increase one's chances of contracting meningitis. Babies are more at risk, as are those (such as college students) who live together with many people in close proximity. Certain medical conditions make one more susceptible to infection, as does traveling to certain areas of the world (such as sub-Saharan Africa).

In the United States between 2003 and 2007, there were approximately 4000 cases of bacterial meningitis diagnosed each year; about 500 of these cases each year proved fatal. Viral meningitis is also an infection of the meninges, but the virus (instead of the bacteria) causing the illness is usually not as severe, and most people heal over time without treatment.