Staphylococcal meningitis is an inflammatory condition that arises due to infection from Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. It causes inflammation in the protective lining around the brain.

Meningitis is a serious inflammatory condition. Scientists estimate that in 2015 alone, there were at least 8.7 million cases of meningitis worldwide. Those cases translated into roughly 379,000 deaths.

There are many different types of meningitis, which scientists sometimes define by the underlying cause. This article looks at one such type, staphylococcal meningitis (staph meningitis).

Staph meningitis is a rare form that mainly arises during brain surgery. Its outlook tends to be worse than for the average form of meningitis.

The article details the symptoms, risk factors, and diagnosis of staph meningitis.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state meningitis is an inflammatory condition. It affects the protective sheaves, called the meninges, that line the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis occurs when those sheaves become inflamed, causing them to swell.

Meningitis can arise for many reasons, such as cancer, injury, and drug usage. However, the most common cause of meningitis is infection. Fungal, viral, and bacterial infections can all lead to meningitis.

Staph meningitis is meningitis that arises from a Staphylococcus aureus infection. As a 2020 paper explains, Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacterium. However, the authors note staph meningitis is an extremely rare condition.

There are many possible signs of meningitis. A 2022 review lists the following as symptoms of this condition:

In some cases, inflammation during meningitis can increase pressure inside a person’s skull. This could cause the following serious symptoms:

  • neurological problems
  • changes in mental status
  • seizures

When it comes to acute bacterial meningitis, some symptoms are more common than others.

For instance, according to the above 2020 paper, 41% of people with this condition experience a fever, a stiff neck, and changes in mental status.

Furthermore, around 84% of these individuals experience a severe headache, 74% have a fever greater than 100.4°F (38°C), and 62% report nausea.

The root cause of staph meningitis is an infection from the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium.

A recent review explains that these bacteria are common in humans, colonizing the skins of up to half of all adults. Moreover, some individuals carry these bacteria in atypically large volumes.

These individuals include:

  • healthcare workers, such as doctors and nurses
  • people staying in hospitals
  • those who regularly use needles, including for intravenous drug use
  • immunocompromised people

Scientists do not know whether these individuals are at an increased risk of developing staph meningitis.

However, the above 2020 paper does state that over 50% of staph meningitis cases arise after brain surgery.

The theory is that Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can make contact with the central nervous system during the operation itself.

Scientists have not devised specific diagnostic tests for staph meningitis. Doctors use standard diagnostic tools if someone presents with symptoms of meningitis.

The 2022 review explains that diagnosing meningitis mainly involves analyzing the cerebrospinal fluid. Those analyses will gauge levels of white blood cells, glucose, and proteins within the fluid.

The laboratory analyses will also aim to detect the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that may be behind the meningitis.

Blood tests can also serve this function and can help determine whether someone’s meningitis is due to Staphylococcus aureus.

According to the above 2022 review, the survival rate for meningitis is roughly 75% in the United States.

However, the 2020 paper suggests that the survival rate could be considerably lower for staph meningitis.

There is no reliable data on how to prevent staph meningitis.

However, research indicates some steps that could reduce the risk of Staphylococcus aureus infections more broadly. For example, proper hand-washing in hospitals may have this effect, alongside more thorough decontamination procedures. That said, there is currently no vaccine against Staphylococcus aureus.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about staph meningitis.

Is staph meningitis contagious?

Health experts state people can spread Staphylococcus aureus through contact.

What is the mortality rate of staph meningitis?

Scientists do not know the exact mortality rate for staph meningitis, although they consider it to be high.

Can staph infection spread to the brain?

Yes. Research has shown that these infections can spread from other body parts to the brain.

Meningitis is when the protective linings around the brain become inflamed.

This most commonly arises due to infection. But although staph meningitis arises from a Staphylococcus aureus infection, this condition is very rare.

Because it is so rare, scientists do not know much about staph meningitis. Some research shows that it is more dangerous than the average form of meningitis. However, the exact mortality rate is difficult to gauge.

Doctors know that most staph meningitis infections occur during brain surgery, when staph bacteria can easily access the brain. Maintaining good hygiene in hospital settings could lower this condition’s incidence.