Brain Infection

There are many organisms, viruses, fungi and parasites which can cause infection in the brain and spinal cord.  Some of the most commonly seen brain infections include:

Meningitis- is an inflammation of the membranes of the brain or spinal cord.  It can be caused by a virus or by bacteria.  Bacterial meningitis is a very serious disease.

Encephalitis- is an inflammation of the brain itself.  It can take many forms from many causes.

Myelitis- means an inflammation of the spinal cord

Abscess- a collection of pus appearing in an acute or chronic localized infection and associated with tissue destruction.

In the United States, about 25,000 new cases of meningitis are diagnosed each year.  About 2/3 of all cases are in children.  Recent statistics show that the incidence of bacterial meningitis is estimated to be more than 400 cases per 100,000 newborns. There are three types of bacteria which most commonly cause meningitis: (i) Streptococcus pneumonia, (ii) Neisseria meningitidis, and (iii) Haemophilus influenza type b. 

Other common brain infections include (i) Toxoplasmosis, caused by a parasite, and acquired by eating unwashed vegetables or undercooked meat or direct contact with cat feces, (ii ) Cerebral cysticercosis, caused by the pork tapeworm,  (iii) Trichinosis, caused by the roundworm parasite found in undercooked pork, (iv) Rubella (German measles) caused by the rubella virus, (v) Mumps, caused by a virus (vi) Rabies, a viral infection transmitted through animal bites, and (vii) AIDS or HIV, caused by the human immunodeficiency virus.

Various types of brain infections can develop different symptoms. However, in general, people older than 2 years with a bacterial infection might develop high fever, severe headaches, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, discomfort looking into a bright light, a skin rash, confusion, sleepiness.  Newborns may be unusually fussy, irritable, and sleepy.  Seizures could also develop in the late stages of the disease.

Early diagnosis and treatment are extremely important with brain infections.  The definitive diagnosis of meningitis is usually derived from a lumbar puncture, during which spinal fluid is obtained from a spinal tap and sent to a lab for analysis.  A CT scan or other standard lab work and neurological examination may also be performed.

Treatment for the bacterial infection is usually accomplished through intravenous antibiotics.  Steroids may also be given to reduce brain swelling.  Acutely ill patients should be given I.V. antibiotics within 30 minutes of being evaluated in the emergency room.


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