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Rare forms of meningitis more deadly than viral meningitis

Hospital patients with rare types of meningitis, including fungal and parasitic meningitis, are 15 times more likely to die than patients hospitalized with viral meningitis, according to data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Among hospitalizations in 2006, the death rate for fungal and other rare types of meningitis was approximately 9 percent (about 500 deaths among 5,300 stays) compared with 8 percent for patients with bacterial meningitis (nearly 1,300 deaths among 15,700 stays), and a death rate of 0.6 percent (about 200 deaths among 39,300 stays) for viral meningitis is the most common form.

Meningitis is a rare but serious condition that mainly attacks younger people, or those whose immune systems are weakened from AIDS or other causes. By inflaming the tissue surrounding the spinal cord and brain, the infection can cause epilepsy, brain swelling or bleeding, cerebral palsy, stroke, and in severe cases, death. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, severe headache, neck stiffness, inability to tolerate bright light or loud noises, skin rashes, and seizures. Infants may have other symptoms, including jaundice.

The data also showed that in 2006:

  • About 72,000 hospitalized Americans had meningitis. It cost hospitals $1.2 billion to treat the patients.
  • Patients from poor communities were more likely to be hospitalized for meningitis than people from wealthy communities. For example, nearly half of fungal or other rare types of meningitis hospitalizations were for patients from the poorest communities.
  • Patients with fungal or other rare types of meningitis tended to be older (43 average age) than those with bacterial meningitis (38 average age) or viral meningitis (30 average age).

For more information, see Meningitis-Related Hospitalizations in the United States, 2006. HCUP Statistical Brief #57 ( The report uses statistics from the 2005 Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a database of hospital inpatient stays that is nationally representative of inpatient stays in all short-term, non-Federal hospitals. The data are drawn from hospitals that comprise 90 percent of all discharges in the United States and include all patients, regardless of insurance type, as well as the uninsured.

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