Doctors rarely report cases of meningitis associated with COVID-19. Experts are still trying to understand the link between meningitis and COVID-19.

Meningitis is a potentially life threatening condition. It involves inflammation of the protective membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord, which comprise the central nervous system (CNS).

So far, no research shows that individuals are more likely to develop COVID-19 or become seriously ill if they have had prior meningitis. While COVID-19 primarily affects the respiratory system, emerging evidence suggests that it may also have implications for the CNS.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the association between meningitis and COVID-19, including the risk factors and when someone should seek medical attention.

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The link between meningitis and COVID-19 is an area of ongoing research and investigation. However, it seems that the direct association between meningitis and COVID-19 is likely to be small.

Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can cause meningitis, with viral meningitis being the most common form. Certain coronaviruses, including SARS‑CoV‑2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — may be involved in some cases.

There are reports of meningitis with COVID-19, but it is not as common as other neurological symptoms. Typical symptoms may include:

  • loss of taste and smell
  • headache
  • stroke

What the research says

There is little data on meningitis and COVID-19. One example is a 2021 review of 32 people with meningitis or encephalitis with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. Meningitis refers to inflammation of the meninges, while encephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain.

The authors highlighted that almost 7 in 10 people had typical COVID-19 symptoms before the onset of meningitis or encephalitis symptoms. In this group, there were 7 days between the start of COVID-19 symptoms and meningitis or encephalitis symptoms.

The precise mechanisms underlying the co-occurrence of meningitis with COVID-19 are unknown, and further research is needed to understand them fully. A potential explanation is the shared risk factors between meningitis and COVID-19. Certain factors can increase the risk of meningitis and severe COVID-19, including:

  • age
  • pre-existing medical conditions
  • immunocompromised status

There are rare cases of people having COVID-19 and viral meningitis simultaneously. However, no evidence suggests that COVID-19 makes it more likely for viral meningitis to reoccur.

However, this is an evolving field of research, and experts are monitoring the situation closely.

Specific bacteria, not viruses, cause bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis may involve pathogens such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, or Haemophilus influenzae. Therefore, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes COVID-19, it is unlikely to lead to bacterial meningitis.

There is one case report of a person who developed meningoencephalitis following COVID-19 vaccination. But this is extremely rare.

The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death far outweigh the risks of developing rare complications such as meningoencephalitis.

Vaccination remains a critical tool in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and protecting individuals and communities from the virus.

There is no evidence to suggest that individuals are more likely to contract COVID-19 or become seriously ill if they have had prior meningitis.

As a person recovers from meningitis, they may be more vulnerable to infections for a short period. This window varies between people and may depend on several factors, including overall health status, immune function, and the specific type of meningitis they experienced. Also, the immune system may still be weakened or compromised during this recovery phase.

However, having a history of meningitis does not inherently make a person more susceptible to COVID-19. Instead, the risk of contracting COVID-19 depends on various factors, such as:

  • vaccine status
  • exposure to the virus
  • adherence to preventive measures
  • overall health

Some types of bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause sepsis. They include Neisseria meningitidis, which can cause meningococcal septicemia or meningococcemia.

As someone recovers from sepsis, they may have an increased risk of infections for a short period as their body and immune system recover. These individuals may have an increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19.

However, if an individual recovers well and does not experience repeated infections or immune problems, their risk of COVID-19 infection or severe illness is likely the same as for anyone else.

Most people recover from COVID-19 at home with supportive care. However, they should seek emergency medical attention if the following symptoms occur:

  • breathing problems
  • pain or pressure in the chest
  • confusion
  • problems staying awake or waking up
  • pale or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds

There appears to be no direct link between meningitis and COVID-19, and few cases exist in the literature. However, individuals recovering from meningitis may be temporarily more susceptible to infections, which could include COVID-19.

If someone with COVID-19 develops severe symptoms or signs of meningitis, they should seek emergency medical attention. Vaccination is critical in preventing COVID-19, and individuals should follow the recommended vaccine schedules to protect themselves and others. It is extremely rare for COVID-19 vaccines to cause meningitis.

By staying informed, practicing preventive measures, seeking timely medical attention, and getting vaccinated, individuals can effectively mitigate the risks associated with meningitis and COVID-19.