What are the Signs of Spinal Meningitis?

What is spinal meningitis? Well, spinal meningitis is a serious brain and spinal cord disease that occurs when the membranes, tissues, and fluids surrounding your brain and spinal cord become infected. It is important to note that spinal meningitis can quickly become life-threatening. The infection responsible for causing this condition is usually bacterial or viral in nature; however, in rare cases a fungus is the culprit. In some cases, the infection can be contained by your immune system, and removed from your body; however if the infection enters your bloodstream, it can invade your cerebrospinal fluid, causing inflammation around your brain and spinal cord. The signs of spinal meningitis vary, depending on if you are a child or an adult. If you are interested in learning the signs of spinal meningitis, you have come to the right place. This article will teach you the signs of this potentially life-threatening disease, so that you can seek the appropriate treatment for you or your child.

Signs of Spinal Meningitis

Many people mistake the signs of meningitis with influenza (flu) symptoms; therefore it is imperative that you seek emergency treatment, if you feel that you or your child has contracted this disease. You cannot tell what type of meningitis you or your child has (or if it is meningitis at all), so it is important to allow a qualified neurologist to diagnose the condition. Meningitis signs can develop over several hours, or they can gradually increase over a couple of days.

Signs in Young Children

According to WebMD (2014), the signs of spinal meningitis in young children (i.e. infants) differ from those of older children, teens, and adults, although some signs are similar. Common signs of meningitis in young children include: lethargy, high-pitched cries, constant whimpering, a hypersensitivity to being touched or moved, a blank stare, cool or cold hands and/or feet, a high fever, a significant loss of appetite (i.e. a refusal to eat), back joint and muscle achiness, a pale complexion, a blotchy complexion, and/or nausea and vomiting. If your child exhibits any of the signs listed above, contact your physician or call 911 immediately.

Signs in Older Children, Teen & Adults

According to the Mayo Clinic (2014), signs of spinal meningitis in older children (over the age of two years old), teens, and adults include: a severe headache that will not subside or quickly worsens, an unexplained stiff neck, a high fever that will not lower, nausea and/or vomiting accomplanied by a piercing headache, seizures, confusion, and/or an inability to concentrate or focus, a sensitivity to light, sleepiness, or difficulty waking up, muscle spasms, pain that radiates from the spine, a lack of appetite (i.e. weight loss), joint pain, extreme fatigue, heavy perspiration (sweating), and/or a skin rash.

Causes of Spinal Meningitis

As mentioned previously, spinal meningitis can be caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection, although it is most commonly caused by a viral infection. Viral spinal meningitis is less dangerous than bacterial spinal meningitis. This form of spinal meningitis is serious, but usually not fatal. Bacterial spinal meningitis is much more serious, and spreads rather quickly throughout your system, if not treated immediately. This form of spinal meningitis can become life-threatening within the matter of minutes or hours. In fact, amongst the other forms of meningitis, bacterial spinal meningitis has the highest rates of permanent disabilities and deaths. It is important to note that this condition can also occur as a result of a lupus or cancer complication, a traumatic spine or head injury, and/or medications/surgical procedures.

Risk Factors of Spinal Meningitis

Viral spinal meningitis is most often diagnosed in children 4 and under, the average age for bacterial spinal meningitis is 25 years old. In the past, young children were considered the most vulnerable to bacterial spinal meningitis, but that changed as more children received vaccinations, designed to protect them, and others against bacterial infections. You are also at-risk for developing this disease, if you are pregnant, work with animals, live in close quarters with others, and have a compromised immune system (i.e. autoimmune disease or low immune system). If bacterial spinal meningitis is not properly treated, it can lead to neurological damage, and/or possibly death.


Mayo Clinic. (2014). Meningitis. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/basics/definition/con-20019713

Spinal Meningitis Organization. (2014). Exactly what is spinal meningitis? How dangerous is meningitis disease? Retrieved from http://spinalmeningitis.org/

WebMD. (2014). Meningitis – Symptoms. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/children/vaccines/tc/meningitis-symptoms

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