Meningitis VS Encephalitis: Symptoms, Causative agent, and Treatment

Mening tissue that forms around the brain and spinal cord is called meninges. The terms encephalitis and meningitis are often used interchangeably by people without a medical background. However, there is a key difference between the two health conditions. The distinction is important and can have major impacts on the severity of illness, and the treatment options.

Meninges surround the brain and spinal cord and when it is affected by viral or bacterial infections, then it is known as meningitis.

Encephalitis is a general term for inflammation of the brain, which can be caused by a wide variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, physical trauma, metabolic disorders, and autoimmune disorders.

The symptoms of encephalitis include headaches and high fever which can last for several day. However, meningitis shows symptoms such as severe headaches which are more localized and only lasts for few hours.

Symptoms of Encephalitis

There are lots of symptoms for both meningitis and encephalitis. These symptoms are not identical. Some symptoms of encephalitis are listed below:

  1. Headache
  2. Mild flu-like symptoms
  3. Vision problems
  4. Sudden fever
  5. Vomiting
  6. Seizures
  7. Muscle weakness
  8. Clumsy or unsteady gait
  9. Increasing sensitivity to light
  10. Inflexible neck and back
  11. Reduced judgment
  12. difficulty with speech or hearing
  13. Irritability
  14. Sleepiness
  15. Misperception or disorientation
  16. Phantasms
  17. Loss of awareness
  18. Changes in personality or behavior
  19. Quick memory loss

Symptoms of Meningitis

The following symptoms may occur very suddenly if you are affected with meningitis:
• Severe, insistent headache
• Excessive fever
• Within 1–2 days, flu-like symptoms may occur
• Vomiting
• Nausea
• Compassion to vivid light
• Inflexible neck
• Sleepiness
• Misperception
• Complicatedness waking
• Dual-vision

Symptoms of both Meningitis and Encephalitis in Children

  • Patients feel fever;
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Not wakening for feedings
  • Infrequent irritability
  • Stiffness of the body

Causative Agents of Both Meningitis and Encephalitis

  1. Bacteria
  2. Viruses
  3. Parasites
  4. Fungi

Types of Meningitis

There are various types of meningitis. These depend on the causative agents (virus, bacteria, parasites, etc: 

Viral meningitis: The meningitis is caused by viruses, known as viral meningitis. The following viruses are responsible for viral meningitis:

• Influenza virus
• Mumps virus
• Herpes simplex type 2
• Enteroviruses
• Varicella zoster, which causes chickenpox and shingles

Bacterial meningitis: The meningitis is caused by bacteria, known as bacterial meningitis. The following bacteria are responsible for bacterial meningitis:

Name of BacteriaName of Meningitis
Streptococcus pneumoniaePneumococcal meningitis
Neisseria meningitidesMeningococcal meningitis
Haemophilus influenzaeHaemophilus influenzae meningitis
Listeria monocytogenes: Listeria monocytogenes meningitis
Escherichia coliE. coli meningitis

Fungal meningitis: The meningitis is caused by fungi, known as fungal meningitis. The following fungi are responsible for fungal meningitis:

Name of FungiHabitat
HistoplasmaIt is primarily found in the soil. It is available in soil with large quantities of bat or birds droppings.
CryptococcusIt is found in the environment all over the world.
CoccidioidesIt is also found in soil of the Americas
BlastomycesIt prefers to live in moist soil with rotten wood and leaves.

Parasitic meningitis: The meningitis is caused by various parasites, known as parasitic meningitis. Generally, they are less common than bacterial and viral meningitis. The following parasites are responsible for parasitic meningitis:

Name of ParasitesTransmission Process
Angiostrongylus cantonensisThis parasite is transmitted to human when people eat undercooked or raw slugs or snails.
Gnathostoma spinigerumA people is affected by this parasite when he comes into contact with the parasitic eggs contaminated raccoon feces.
Baylisascaris procyonisThis parasite is transmitted to human when people eat undercooked poultry, freshwater fishes, snakes, frogs, etc.

Some Additional Risk Factors of Meningitis

In many cases, the following people show additional risk factors from the meningococcal meningitis:

• Below 1-2 year of age of infants;
• Those people who tour to endemic areas;
• College students are also show risk factors;
• In many cases, residence of dormitories show high risk;
• Military recruits;
• Newborns and older aged people show high risk from Escherecia coli meningitis;
• Children under 2 years of age show risk for pneumococcal meningitis;
• Children of childcare environments also show higher risk for Haemophilus influenzae meningitis;

Some Complications

You may face the following complications if you suffer severely from encephalitis or meningitis:
• Some parts of the body show loss of sensation;
• Lack of muscle control
• The legs and arms show partial paralysis;
• Loss of hearing;
• Loss of speech;
• Loss of memory;
• Loss of visions;
• Permanent damaging of nerve and brain;
• Changing personality and behavior;
• Mental disabilities;
• Seizures;
• Death;


There are many vaccines available in the market with proper cost which can help to prevent encephalitis and meningitis. These vaccines are:
• Meningococcal vaccine
• Japanese encephalitis vaccine
• Pneumococcal vaccine
• Haemophilus influenzae b vaccine

Treatment of Encephalitis and Meningitis

Generally, full recovery is done if you suffer from mild meningitis and encephalitis. In severe cases, patients may require hospitalization and it takes longer period of time for recovery. Reducing the risk of complications from both meningitis and encephalitis, immediate diagnosis and treatment are required.

Recovery rate from both encephalitis and meningitis depend on the level of brain inflammation and severity of the condition. Generally, if you show neurological symptoms then you resolve gradually or suddenly. In case of bacterial meningitis, patients show improvement using proper treatment within 48-72 hours. In this case, most of the bacterial meningitis are cured greatly if you take antibiotic treatment. On the other hand, viral meningitis may cure fully within 7-10 days using proper treatment and it is not usually life threatening.

If you infected with viral encephalitis, then you should take antiviral drugs such as acyclovir and ganciclovir.

You should take proper antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial meningitis. If you affected with fungal meningitis, you should take intravenous antifungal medication.

Final Thoughts

Meningitis and encephalitis are not the same diseases and both are life-threatening brain disorders. They are caused by the inflammation of the brain tissues, leading to swelling of the brain, spinal cord or both.

Understanding the difference between encephalitis and meningitis is essential for protecting yourself and your loved ones.

It must be said that both encephalitis and meningitis are extremely serious and dangerous.