Although a rare complication of mononucleosis, meningitis can occur in some people. Meningitis can be a serious illness if a person contracts that bacterial form.

However, when meningitis occurs due to a mono infection, it's more likely to be the viral form of the illness. Still, because you cannot be sure which form of meningitis you have without testing, and since bacterial meningitis can be fatal, it is important to see your doctor if you begin to display meningitis symptoms.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an illness that affects the membranes (meninges) and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by either a viral or bacterial infection, although certain fungi may also result in meningitis (fungal meningitis), though this is rare.

The more common form of meningitis is viral meningitis, which typically clears up on its own. However, bacterial meningitis is by far the more serious and can progress quite quickly without treatment and possibly lead to death. While anyone of any age can be affected, most cases of meningitis are noticed in individuals between the ages of 15 and 24.

Signs Symptoms of Meningitis

Regardless of which form of the illness you are infected with, symptoms of meningitis are generally the same between the two and include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Confusion or drowsiness

In babies under a year, symptoms may manifest differently and can include:

  • Eating poorly
  • Unusually irritable
  • Constant crying
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Hard time waking up

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis can be fatal within days of symptom onset or lead to permanent brain damage if treatment is delayed. Therefore it is extremely important to be evaluated by a medical professional if you suspect that you have meningitis.

While various bacterias can cause meningitis, the most common include:

  • Pneumoccus: Seen more frequently in infants and young children, this bacteria also causes ear and sinuous infections along with pneumonia
  • Meningococcus: A highly contagious bacteria, meningococcus often causes local epidemics in close quarters, such as boarding schools, dorms and military bases
  • Group B Strep: This bacteria mainly effects infants under 3 months; the bacteria is normally found in the vaginal or rectal area and a baby may come into contact with the bacteria during birth. Testing for Group B Strep is now commonly done in pregnant women so precautions can be taken.
  • E. Coli: Meningitis due to this bacteria usually affects newborns and the elderly

In the past, haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis. However, since 1992, an effective meningitis vaccine, Hib, has become a part of the routine vaccination schedule in babies, thereby reducing the number of Hib related meningitis cases significantly.

Listeria is also another bacteria that may cause meningitis. Those at the greatest risk of infection include infants, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Pregnant women are advised to ensure that their meat is cooked thoroughly and to avoid consuming milk made from unpasturized milk.

Viral Meningitis

Cases of viral meningitis tend to be milder than incidents of bacterial meningitis. Additionally, viral meningitis is more likely to away on its own within 10 days.

However, it is still necessary to be evaluated by a doctor to ensure that your meningitis symptoms are related to a viral infection and not a bacterial one.

As with bacterial meningitis, there are a variety of viruses that may cause meningitis. Although it is rare, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which also causes mono, can cause meningitis.

If you already have mono, then there is a chance that EBV could attack the nervous system, resulting in meningitis. However, this is uncommon.

Testing and Treatment

To determine what form of meningitis you have, your doctor will perform a physical exam in addition to some diagnostic tests, which can include:

  • Throat culture (to identify any bacteria that may be affecting throat, neck and headaches)
  • X-rays or CT scans (to locate any swelling and areas of infection)
  • Spinal tap (removes a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid which can then be analyzed for bacteria)

If it is determined that you have bacterial meningitis, then you will quickly be treated with the appropriate antibiotic as this form of meningitis can progress quickly and cause shock or death within a few days.

When a particular bacteria has not been identified, a broad-spectrum antibiotic will be prescribed until it is known exactly which bacteria is causing the infection.

You may also receive treatment for other symptoms associated with meningitis such as dehydration, brain swelling, and sinuous infection. If fluid has accumulated around the brain, it may be necessary to drain it.

Individuals with viral meningitis will likely be prescribed bed rest, lots of fluids and over-the-counter medications to relieve aches and fever. This is because antibiotics will not help treat a virus. Additionally, viral meningitis typically clears up on its own with little medical intervention.


Serious complications can occur if treatment is not promptly administered.

Complications of meningitis include:

  • Kidney or adrenal gland failure
  • Seizures
  • Permanent neurological damage (i.e. blindness, paralysis, behavior problems)
  • Death

Preventing Meningitis

There are number of steps you can take to reduce your chances of contracting meningitis.

  • Practice proper hand washing techniques
  • Avoid sharing items that touch the lips (i.e. utensils, cups, cigarettes)
  • Keep up to date on your immunizations

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