Meningitis: Deadly, Debilitating, and Associated With COVID-19

By Mary Valdez, MS, MT, Product Manager for ID Systems at bioMérieux

In the midst of the fight against COVID-19, it’s important to acknowledge the many other diseases competing with the coronavirus for the time and resources of our healthcare facilities. Healthcare professionals are providing care and treatment not only for the coronavirus but for other diseases as well, many of which continue to take lives and add to the burdens healthcare facilities face around the world.

April 24 is World Meningitis Day, and the condition is one of many that may compete against COVID-19 for healthcare resources. Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection. The disease is deadly and debilitating, it strikes quickly, and it affects people of all ages. Discussion of the first known case of meningitis associated with SARS-CoV-2 is published in the May 2020 volume of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, showing the neuroinvasive potential of the virus.  

Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis, and it is often less severe than bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis can lead to death within 24 hours, and it leaves one in five patients with lifelong disability after infection. Often, deaths from meningitis are vaccine-preventable, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), progress in defeating meningitis lags behind other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The Dangers of Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a serious, life-threatening condition. Although the majority of people who develop it recover, permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and limb loss can result from the infection. In 2017, it was estimated that more than 20 million years of healthy life were collectively lost from meningitis worldwide.

Several types of bacteria can cause meningitis. Leading causes in the United States include:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Group B Streptococcus
  • Neisseria meningitidis
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Listeria monocytogenes

Meningococcal meningitis, caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, is a global concern due to the bacteria’s potential to cause large epidemics. Twelve types of N. meningitides, called serogroups, have been identified, six of which can cause epidemics. This form of meningitis is also associated with high fatality—up to 50% when untreated.

A Goal to Defeat Meningitis by 2030

Despite significant progress in reducing the incidence of meningitis over the past 20 years, there were still an estimated 5 million new cases globally and 290,000 deaths from meningitis in 2017. That same year, representatives from governments, global health organizations, public health bodies, academia, and the private sector called for a global vision to defeat meningitis as a public health threat. The WHO took up the call to action and, with global partners and experts, developed a road map to defeat meningitis by 2030.

This first global road map on meningitis sets out a plan to tackle the main causes of acute bacterial meningitis. The three visionary goals are to:

  1. Eliminate epidemics of bacterial meningitis
  2. Reduce cases of and deaths from vaccine-preventable bacterial meningitis
  3. Reduce disability and improve quality of life after meningitis of any cause

In order to achieve them, the road map identifies strategic goals, key activities and milestones across five pillars: prevention and epidemic control; diagnosis and treatment; disease surveillance; support and care for people affected by meningitis; and advocacy and engagement.

World Meningitis Day

The purpose of World Meningitis Day (April 24, 2020) is to spread awareness about the disease’s potentially life-changing impact, and about the importance of meningitis prevention and early recognition. This year’s theme for the occasion is ‘Defeat Meningitis’—we can all help to defeat meningitis.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of bioMérieux, Inc.

7 Replies to “Meningitis: Deadly, Debilitating, and Associated With COVID-19”

  1. Never felt bad worked all day came home within 1 hour I started with heavy chills then leg spasms. Within the hour my health rapidly desinigrated. I was numbing out in limbs and side of my face told my wife to call 911. From the first symptoms of chills within 1 hour I was in the ER and got put on a ventilator for 5 days. I was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. I never knew I was sick. Thank God for trained 1st responded and ER Drs and heath care workers. I am lucky I suffered no long term disabilities at 63 yrs old. They told me I was tuff.

  2. Got off track, but was wondering if my major disconcerting, frankly frightening symptom, was perhaps some minor brain inflammation that caused the intense tightness, vice grip on right side of forehead, and didn’t release for hours. When it released, there was immediate relief and awareness of the grip being gone.

    Does this symptom sound perhaps a like a minor brain blood clot, perhaps a minor stroke, ischemic transient, resulting from COVID.  I went on this site, to see if anyone has any
    concepts as to what was happening in the brain, and what non-covid symptoms was COVID imitating. I do not have high blood pressure.    I was not able to monitor my blood pressure during this intense acute time, as I didn’t have a blood pressure monitor.  

    The right front side of my head, the “novel” intense tightness,never ever in my 50++ years have I ever had such a sensation.  This was one of my main initial symptoms, and it would recur every so many days, like it had a weekly schedule., as the low grade fever, right foot numbness and extreme coldness, and then chest pains.
    Each time, I guess I am very lucky, it was not as intense and not as long duration.  But it was like a grip, tightening and if it escalated I knew instinctively I could lose consciousness.  It’s like a stranger takes this erratic, unpredictable control of your body, not knowing, when it will strike,how it will strike,  and if it will be worse, even if think you are getting better and feeling good that day.
    It seems like there is atleast a three week window after the first symptoms of it suddenly getting acutely worse. So each week, the probability goes slightly down?

    This is why I went on this site. I know COVID cause excess blood clotting, has even caused strokes in young people. Between high ferritin iron levels and high d-dimmer levels (product of blood clotting.) this virus seems like a blood disease that somehow effects oxygen levels and the bodies control and balance of blood clotting.

    It is truly Novel, because this corona virus acts like anything but a cold, and can have many (perhaps most are) novel and non respiratory symptoms and complications.  My fever was low grade, there was no cough, but I did have a weird itchy, on and off sensation in my throat, but the lightheadedness was distinctly there.  

    No cold virus in the past
    has caused excessive blood clotting.  I don’t think people realize how serious this virus is, even if slow and very gradual at first, can almost go by unnoticed.  

    So if anyone, had similar symptoms concerning their brain in the past, before COVID and it was a minor stroke, or brain swelling, or unruptured aneurysm, please comment.


    1. I don’t know. I was at work Sunday. I did not feel like myself, I was sluggish, my body felt heavy. I spent Monday “resting”. I am required to take my temperature everyday, I have no fever, but it has become difficult to take full breath. I’m wondering if I’m asymtomatic, and have some symptoms but not sever, because I had viral meningitis. And can I infect someone else?

  3. I don’t know but I had symptoms, came on sudden after 5-6 days of possible cover exposure in a healthcare setting.
    I had felt lightheaded that day, weird but not disconcerting, and dismissed.
    The day before was feverish, low grade with weird heat abdomen area and back lion area (kidneys)
    These symptoms were dismissed by me, but that entire day, a monday, I was not hungry, and my mucous membranes in my nose, which are always leaking in the spring, were excessively dry.  Didn’t need to blow my nose at all.  Weird but didn’t think much of it.
    However, that evening I had something happen, as I quickly started to feel weird lightheaded and it got so intense, especially right side of the forehead, like I was going to lose consciousness and had no control.  It was terrifying, never felt anything like this in my whole life.  I called a friend, to express my fears, and they 
    suggested maybe it’s just low blood sugar.  I couldn’t walk to my pantry upright without feeling like I would lose consciousness.  I crawled and got some sugar, it made absolutely no difference.  I am not diabetic, not pre diabetic.  I could talk and made sense and was not confused.  After talking to one friend, I called another.
    I ate a cookie made no difference.  It was like something had  tight grip and wouldn’t release.  It was not a panic attack, as breathing or thoughts, didn’t make a difference.  I was strangely lightheaded,but not confused, coherent, could talk.  I felt I had to be on the phone or I would lose consciousness, and if I lost consciousness while on the phone, my friend would call 911 for me.  After two hours, I went to my bedroom and forced myself to watch movies, with my laptop on my lap.  I felt an anxiety that I never felt, and that this tight grip tension, I could not give into to or I felt I would not wake up.  It released around 4am and I felt a big difference, and immediately fell asleep exhausted.  The episodes were then every few days, 2-3 times a week, with each time less intensity, never as frightening as the first time.

    I was tested for COVId, (remember I had no respiratory type symptoms and had unusually dry mucous membranes).  Driving was surreal, as I felt lightheaded and gas myself an hour to drive to the hospital testing site 20 minutes away, in case I needed to pull over.    I was lucky to get an oximeter when I stopped by the CVS, double masking, gloves and keeping social distance from everyone.  For the first week, it dipped to 92 to 90, but not lower.  

    Now going into the fifth week, it is consistently 98 to 100.  The first week, my symptoms also included excessively high heart rate after just walking several steps.
    Taking my dogs into the backyard, just walking my heart rate would jump to 143, which it never did for walking.  I am a runner, marathoner, and know my heart rate.  It might get to 80 if I walk fast.  This was scary.  

    The lighthedness continued, talking more than ten minutes would bring it on, and maybe feeling ok then after three minutes, walking feel faint, almost passing out and losing colors and sight, but I quickly went to the floor as it is easier not to pass out if your head is floor level, same level as body.

    My exposure was to  nurse, healthcare worker in a critical care COVID unit, and her mask was lose, elastic worn out and the surgical, not N95 mask looked tattered the edges.  I was in an enclosed area in a building talking to her, versus outside.

    From experiencing this, these are the following conclusions, personal direct experience and observation.  This virus may be a corona virus but its similarities with a cold end there.  It lasts more than two weeks, try two months and my symptoms did not require hospitalization.  If I did not have an oximeter, I would have
    called an ambulance, but seeing my blood oxygen levels were not going below 90, I stayed homThe body’s innate immune system takes awhile to figure out this virus, depending on the speed and efficiency of this first line off defense, the virus is replicating.  Depending upon the initial viral load, if large, or continually reinfected with additional viral load, while fighting the first load, your body may never get on top of it and need hospitalization. 

    You are not better in 2 weeks, try two months minimal for even mild.  It can strike people, after the second or third week, with sudden severe symptoms needing hospitalizations.  So the rest is important for the body to attack this virus, as whether it stays inactive or just under the radar and then explodes.
    It is nothing like how I have ever been sick, except with a bacterial infection Lyme disease.  When you can have a good day,no symptoms, then next several days fee
    worse.  Colds and flus, you know when you are sick and you know when you are getting better.  This is nothing like that.  I compare it to a stress fracture.  Might feel better after two weeks, but it does not mean you should walk without the boot on, or feel better after four weeks and run.  You need to wait the full six weeks and then come back gradually.  

    People that have minor symptoms, might relate to their immune system and their viral load.  My father was in a nursing home, of 66 people where 30 died in a month of COVID.  Yes, true, still hard for me to believe.  Everyone I knew, is dead and many were physically very healthy but had some form of dementia.  My father had an amazing resilient body, but the viral load, with being isolated from others (to prevent the spread, and also to keep their own viral infection rate down, while their body figures this out, his body never got on top of it.  Quarantining while having symptoms is important for people not to get infected, but also for healing and recovery, until the immune system figures it out, hopefully.

    I had a small dose, 15 minutes talking to a cover nurse and Im going on the fifth week, slowly seeming to recover, but not knowing long term damage.  
    We are told numbers of positive and deaths, and I sometimes notice a number that
    said recovered, always very low. We will never know the numbers of people with
    chronic health conditions, needing long term care, will never have the health they had before COVID.  It is not a minor cold, or flu.  Politicizing medicine is a crime to the public.l

    1. Hi  I tested positive for covid on feb .10th I was symptomatic since feb 2nd I was tested feb
      3rd results were negative so I thought it was the flu went back feb 10th because  I felt worse. developed a cough. Results were negative  for the flu . It is now March and I started getting that tightness you spoke of on the right side of my head on Tuesday March 2 with  Dizziness everyone convinced me that it’s stress it happened again Friday  march 5 .after searching my symptoms on  the web I found your post . I’m really concerned that it may be meningitis I will go to the get checked out today initial  symptom was low grade fever, rash on right side of the ribs. and some scattered on the legs that resembled chicken pox . Cough, runny nose ,loss of smell ,Stabbing pains in my fingers ,toes and elbows, also  numbness of the toes, sleeplessness, anxiety 
      And today numbness of the right ear along  with pressure on the right side of my head  .

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