Can Viral Meningitis Turn Into Bacterial?

Meningitis has numerous different types, depending on the cause of the disease. The main ones are caused by viral and bacterial infections. Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis, it’s usually not serious and easy to treat. Bacterial meningitis is less common than viral, but it is often serious and even life-threatening. A challenging question, can viral meningitis turn into bacterial?

Viral vs. bacterial meningitis

As well we know that meningitis is an inflammation affecting membranes that cover /protect the brain and spinal cord. These membranes are called meninges. Inflamed meninges are often caused by infectious causes.

There are also non-infectious meningitis, but rare. Non-infectious causes include certain non-infectious medical conditions (such as systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), particular medications, and injury.

Viral meningitis

A number of viruses can cause inflammation of meninges. Mostly, they are viruses of enterovirus family. In fact enteroviruses are the main reason to blame for about 75,000 cases of meningitis every year in the US, according to the research released in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

In less common cases, the inflammation can also be caused by other viruses such as West Nile virus, HIV, and herpes simplex.

The viruses that lead to meningitis can spread by a variety of ways. Depending on the type of virus, the infection may spread with the following ways:

  1. Mostly, it spreads through circulation (bloodstream) from an infection somewhere else in the body.
  2. If your partner infected by viruses that can lead to meningitis (especially HIV and HSV-2), you may get also infected through intercourse with your partner.
  3. Respiratory secretions. Sometimes the infection may spread when you inhale air containing the virus.
  4. It may also spread through contaminated stools – for example, when an infected person doesn’t cleanly wash his /her hands after a bowel movement.
  5. Other less common ways include with  an infected needle, a contact with dust /food contaminated by the stool /urine of infected animals such as mice, and a bite of mosquito /other infected insects.

Incubation and infectious period (how long the virus causes meningitis and infects others) vary, depending on several factors especially the specific infectious virus.

Again, viral meningitis is rarely serious (recovery is usually complete without leaving after effects). But the symptoms could also be very bothersome.

At first, it begins with discomforts associated with viral infection such as malaise (feeling unwell), fever, drowsiness, appetite loss, headache, cough, or sometimes vomiting. In some cases, there is no any early symptom.

As the infection and inflammation progress, some classic symptoms of meningitis – such as neck stiffness, severe headache, fever, and more sensitive to light – appear. With a stiff neck related to meningitis; your neck is painful, more difficult to move, or even sometimes impossible to lower your chin to the chest.

The symptoms can be like other bacterial meningitis symptoms, but typically they are less severe and will improve in time (though sometimes treatment is necessary). Hospitalization is also rare for viral meningitis. Most of the time, home treatment is often enough to cope with!
Bacterial meningitis

As the name suggests, it is caused by bacterial infections. There are a number of bacteria that can cause meningitis. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is the cause of pneumococcal meningitis.
  2. Neisseria meningitides (meningococcal meningitis).
  3. Listeria monocytogenes, which is more likely to affect older adults.
  4. In infants and young children, bacterial meningitis is often caused by streptococcus agalactiae and escherichia coli.
  5. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and salmonella can also sometimes cause meningitis, especially in people with compromised immune system.

Bacteria can cause meningitis in several ways. But usually, they travel to the meninges through bloodstream. Sometimes, bacteria somewhere else in the body (such when you have ear infection or sinus infection) travel to the meninges ‘directly’ without entering bloodstream.

The symptoms include high fever, a stiff neck, severe headaches that don’t improve with lifestyle measures, more sensitive to light, confusion, unusual skin rash, or even seizures. See more meningitis symptoms in this section!

Again, many symptoms of bacterial meningitis can also be similar of those for viral meningitis. But they are usually more severe and progress aggressively (the onset often develops quickly). Without prompt treatment, bacterial meningitis could be life-threatening – therefore immediate treatment is necessary.

How fast you take prompt treatment is also important to prevent the complications. In fact, the disease often leaves lingering after effects, which some could be serious. For more information about these after effects, see here! With early and prompt treatment, the risk of death and developing serious complications as a result of bacterial meningitis isn’t likely.

So, can viral meningitis turn into bacterial?

This issue may be still up in the air, not fully understood yet. But theoretically, virus cannot turn into bacteria – and vice versa. Again, viral and bacterial meningitis are different type of meningitis.

However there is also a chance to have both viral and bacterial meningitis at the same time, though this is not common. In other words, it’s possible to get bacterial meningitis when you’re still recovering from viral meningitis, why?

The strength of your immune system may be the answer. Your body has its own natural defense system to fight against infection and illness. And when it doesn’t work well, you’re more vulnerable to get sick or infected by harmful things such as virus and bacteria. If your immune system is strong and works normally, you should be able to fully recover from viral meningitis without lingering effects – also less likely to develop bacterial meningitis during your recovery time.

Other factors may also have a role. These include: