Meningitis is either a bacteria or virus that infects the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord. Many cases of meningitis are not life-threatening. However, the condition can quickly turn more serious and require medical attention-especially if it is bacterial.
Meningitis is particularly common in college dorms due to the communal living, shared spaces, and unhygienic practices.
According to a 2000 CDC study, college freshmen are seven times more likely to get meningitis than other college students. Meningitis occurred 9 to 23 times more frequently in students living in dormitories over those residing in other accommodations.
- Sudden high fever
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache
- Headache with nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking
- Sensitivity to light
- No appetite or thirst
- Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)
Bacterial meningitis can be fatal if not treated within a few days. For diagnosing and developing a treatment plan, doctors often order a CT scan.
If your doctor suspects you have any strand of meningitis, they will most likely prescribe antibiotics prior to order the CT scan. The CT scan is a valuable tool in diagnosing meningitis.
The contrast dye that is injected during the test can highlight brain, skull, and sinus inflammation- all complications and signs of meningitis.
When meningitis is suspected, CT scans can also other conditions that can further complicate meningitis:
- Ruptured disks
- Blood clots
- Irregularities of bones or blood vessels
- Some types brain tumors
- Brain damage caused by a head injury
Most people with meningitis have a CT scan before their lumbar puncture, a test used to diagnose meningitis by studying a sample of spinal fluid.
“We do this to ensure that there isn’t a large, space-occupying lesion, like a tumor, causing increased pressure,” said Jason T. Lerner, MD, assistant clinical professor at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If there is such a lesion, doing a lumbar puncture can have severe consequences, including herniation [protruding tissue] of part of the brain.”
CT scans are used to help diagnose meningitis in patients with certain conditions where a lumbar puncture would not be possible. Such conditions include:
- A suppressed immune system
- Water on the brain (hydrocephalus)
- Head trauma
- Increased intracranial pressure
- Focal neurologic signs (signs of impairment of certain neurologic activities, such as perception and behavior)