Meningitis vs Flu – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Differences

Meningitis is a condition when the membranes which surround the brain and spinal cord become infected. It is difficult to diagnose since the initial symptoms are similar to those of influenza (the flu) or a bad cold.

In 2015, it occurred in approximately 8.7 million people worldwide. This resulted in 379,000 deaths.

There are two types – viral (VM) and bacterial (BM). The viral form is more common, while the bacterial form of meningitis is more serious.


Common symptoms may include:

  • sore neck;
  • fever;
  • irritability;
  • headaches;
  • discomfort looking at bright lights;
  • purple-red skin rash;
  • drowsiness;
  • tiredness;
  • loss of appetite;
  • vomiting.

Infants may also:

  • have an unusually high-pitched cry;
  • refuse feeds;
  • be unresponsive;
  • have a bulging soft spot on the head;
  • not want to be picked up;
  • be agitated.

Patients may suffer from a host of complications, including:

  • epilepsy;
  • brain damage;
  • balance problems;
  • behavioral problems;
  • learning disabilities;
  • vision loss;
  • hearing problems.


BM spreads between people in close contact with each other and can be life-threatening. It can be caused by:

  • Group B Streptococcus;
  • Listeria monocytogenes;
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae;
  • Neisseria meningitides;
  • Haemophilus influenzae

VM is the most frequent and the least dangerous. It is usually caused by enteroviruses (more than 85 percent of cases), like – coxsackievirus and echovirus. Other causes include:

  • human immunodeficiency virus;
  • lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus;
  • mosquito-borne viruses, like – St. Louis encephalitis virus, West Nile virus, and California encephalitis virus;
  • varicella-zoster virus;
  • herpes simplex virus.

In addition, this condition can result from noninfectious causes, like – medicines allergies, chemical reactions, inflammatory diseases, and some types of cancer. Other times, it can occur after a head injury. Occasionally, it occurs for no known reason.


The diagnosis can be based partly on:

  • spinal tap;
  • X-ray;
  • blood tests;
  • CT scan;
  • urine tests;
  • a thorough physical examination.


Early BMs treatment can help senior patients with weak immune system recover or have an underlying medical condition. Treatments typically include:

  • steroid drug to help reduce any swelling around the brain;
  • oxygen through a face mask;
  • fluids and antibiotics (only for bacterial form) given directly into a vein.


Flu, also referred to as influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause severe illness and complications, including pneumonia.


The symptoms commonly come on suddenly and may include:

  • chills;
  • high fever;
  • body aches;
  • digestive problems, such as – diarrhea and vomiting;
  • a runny nose;
  • a dry cough;
  • fatigue.

This condition is contagious. Outbreaks occur more often in the winter months. A sufferer can spread it one week after initial symptoms start.

Most individuals will recover from this condition in about 7 days, however, it may take a few more days for complete recovery. Seniors, young children, people with certain chronic medical conditions (like – asthma, bronchitis, type 2 diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease), and pregnant women, are among those groups of individuals who are at high risk of developing complications.


There are 3 types of influenza viruses: types A, B, C. A patient can be infected with any of the influenza viruses in the same season.

These viruses are passed from individual to individual by droplets created when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes. Also, you can get these viruses from hugs, handshakes, and touching contaminated objects or surfaces.


It doesn’t require a trip to your healthcare professional. Symptoms usually improve with home treatment in about 7 days. Home remedies include: 

#1 Garlic

Garlic (scientific name Allium sativum), closely related to the onion, has been used as a medicine and food for more than 5,000 years. It contains the compound allicin, that may have antimicrobial, antibiotic, and antibacterial properties.

#2 Warm Shower

The steamy air opens the chest and head while it thins and moistens the mucus in the sinuses.

#3 Fluids

Drink as much water as you can. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water per day to keep mucous membranes moist and to help relieve other common influenza symptoms.

#4 Rest

Most sufferers require resting for a few days to let the illness work its course. More importantly, avoid using alcohol and tobacco.

#5 Ginger

Ginger is part of the Zingiberaceae family and is one of the most ancient spices worldwide. It wards off the feelings of nausea which so frequently accompany influenza. Moreover, this spice has the capacity to treat respiratory illnesses, like – upper respiratory infections, coughs, and asthma.

#6 Probiotics

Probiotics are good bacteria and yeast which are found in your body, supplements, and some foods.

#7 Echinacea

It is a North American coneflower that is widely used in Germany and the US. This medicinal herb can help the body fight off infections, however, it is best to take it at the first symptom of illness.

#8 Cayenne Pepper

It has potent anti-microbial, carminative, analgesic, expectorant, and diaphoretic properties. It can help prevent influenza, plus, it can shorten the duration of the symptoms. Furthermore, consuming cayenne pepper brings heat to the body, which can help dispel coldness.

#9 Tea

Drinking caffeine-free teas can help replenish lost fluids. It is recommended to drink peppermint and ginger teas. Also, add lemon or lime to get a little extra vitamin C.

#10 Foods High In Vitamin C

According to research, vitamin C can help battle this condition. Foods rich in vitamin C include – limes, lemons, bell peppers, mangoes, papayas, chili peppers, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, pears, cantaloupe, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, and zucchini.

Meningitis vs Flu – Differences

Meningitis is caused by either viral or bacterial infection. It occurs when the meninges become swollen. BM can get worse very quickly and is life-threatening.

Flu (influenza) is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system — throat, nose, and lungs.

Many people frequently confuse the early symptoms of meningitis with the flu. Actually, meningitis may occur after a flu-like illness. This is the reason why it’s essential to know the signs and symptoms of meningitis and receive treatment as soon as possible.

Images credit – Shutterstock & Getty

READ THIS NEXT: UTI vs Chlamydia


Leave a Comment