Fungal Meningitis Q&A
But they may be slow to develop and mild.
“The speed at which people get sick is very different,” says Benjamin Park, MD, medical officer at the Mycotic Diseases Branch of the CDC.
Unlike bacterial and viral forms of meningitis, which tend to develop within hours, fungal meningitis “creeps up on you,” Park says.
“People who have gotten infected, they’ve had somewhat milder symptoms than you would expect,” says Park.
Park says nearly everyone who has gotten sick has had a headache, for example, but the headache wasn’t the worst-kind-you’ve-ever-had-in-your-life variety, as often comes with bacterial or viral meningitis.
In a few cases, Schaffner says, the first indication that anything was wrong was a stroke. “Patients can present with difficulty speaking, difficulty with their sense of balance or walking,” he says.
How long does it take to get sick?
“There’s a big range,” Park says. “We’ve had people who’ve gotten sick less than a week after their injection, and we’ve had people that have gotten sick, the longest now is up to 42 days,” he says.
“It’s important for people to stay vigilant for symptoms because we don’t know enough to reassure people that they’re safe,” says Park.
I’ve had a “meningitis” vaccine. Will that protect me?
The meningococcal vaccine protects against bacteria that cause meningitis and other meningococcal disease. It doesn’t protect against fungal infection.
How is fungal meningitis diagnosed?
Doctors insert a needle into the lower part of the back to collect a fluid sample. The test is called a lumbar puncture. The fluid is sent to a lab, where technicians culture it to see if fungus will grow.
It’s difficult to get fungus to grow under laboratory conditions, however, and yesterday the CDC said that some people who get meningitis will test negative for fungus.
In those cases, Schaffner says, doctors look for other signs of an infection in the spinal fluid to make the diagnosis.
“There would be an elevated number of white blood cells. The protein concentration would be high and the glucose, or sugar concentration, would be low. So that would indicate that the patient would have inflammation of those membranes surrounding the brain, and we would know that something is wrong, and we would treat the patient for meningitis,” he says.