Characteristic symptoms of meningitis in adults include fever, headache, stiff neck, an inability to bend the chin to the chest, and an inability to tolerate light Table 01. Symptoms of meningitis appear rapidly; adults can fall seriously ill in fewer than 24 hours. Older adults may not show typical symptoms, but may have a low-grade fever, and appear confused. Typically, older individuals will be suffering from another infection, (usually pneumonia) at the same time.
Symptoms of viral meningitis are milder than those of bacterial meningitis, and may only consist of headache, fever, or a sore neck. Generally, fever is less severe for viral meningitis than it is for bacterial meningitis. Headache, confusion, backache, weakness, tingling, numbness, and facial paralysis may also be present.
The symptoms of chronic meningitis are similar to those of bacterial meningitis, but develop more slowly, over the course of several weeks.
Table 1. Common Symptoms of Meningitis in Adults
Fever Chills Malaise Headache Vomiting Stiff neck Inability to tolerate bright light Deep red or purplish rash Inability to lower chin to the chest, or severe pain upon attempt If the infection is not treated promptly, the following symptoms may become apparent: Drowsiness Irritability Confusion A loss of consciousness Shock Strokelike symptoms, including paralysis
Young children, the elderly, and people with immune deficiency are at the highest risk for meningitis. People whose immune systems are more likely to be compromised (i.e., the elderly, and people with underlying medical problems) have an increased risk of getting meningitis. Those at highest risk for bacterial meningitis include people with head injuries, people who have an abnormality of the immune system, people who abuse alcohol, people who have had their spleens removed, people who have chronic ear and nose infections, and those who have sickle cell disease, cirrhosis, or pneumonia.
People who live in crowded conditions are especially susceptible to viral meningitis. Viral meningitis is airborne, and is contagious. Therefore, people who live in crowded conditions, such as military recruits or college students, are at increased risk for the disease.
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