Difference Between Meningitis and Encephalitis


Main Difference

The main difference between meningitis and encephalitis is that the meningitis is the inflammation of brain membranes whereas encephalitis is the acute inflammation of the brain parenchyma.

Meningitis vs. Encephalitis

Meningitis is the swelling of the membranes (meninges) coverings around the brain, and spinal cord while Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain. In meningitis, symptoms are a headache, stiffness of neck and fever whereas symptoms of encephalitis in adults are a headache, fever, aches in muscles or joints and weakness and in severe cases, confusion, hallucination, seizures, problems with speech or hearing and loss of consciousness can be seen. While in children, symptoms of encephalitis are nausea, vomiting, body stiffness, irritability, and poor feeding. Virus, bacteria, parasites, and fungi can cause meningitis but the most common cause is bacteria. There are many causes of encephalitis, but the virus is the most common cause of this disease. Meningitis is diagnosed by blood tests, on the other hand, encephalitis is diagnosed by neuroimaging techniques, CT scan, and MRI. Meningitis is treated with Ampicillin with aminoglycosides and cephalosporin, but encephalitis is treated with acyclovir.


Comparison Chart

It is the inflammation of meninges which covers the brain and spinal cordIt is the acute inflammation of the brain parenchyma
Causative Agent
Fungi, virus, and bacteriaOnly virus
Common Cause
Steptococcus pnemoniae and Neisseria meningitisHerpes simplex virus, Japanese encephalitis, Nile virus, Enterovirus
Only one typeTwo types, primary and secondary encephalitis
Skin rash, nausea, high fever, confusion, sleepiness, stiff neckHeadache, muscle weakness, seizures, and double vision, the problem with speech or hearing
Physical examination, Blood testsClinical presentations, Neuroimaging techniques, CT Scan, and MRI
Maybe present or absentabsent
Mental Status
No focal deficitAlerted mental status
Ampicillin with aminoglycosides and cephalosporin (cefotaxime)Treated with Acyclovir IV for almost ten days
Risk Factors
Age, living in community settings, weak immune system, skipping vaccination, PregnancyAge, compromised immune system, geographical regions, season

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of meninges which covers the brain and spinal cord. Among causative agents of meningitis, bacteria are the most common, and fungi are the rarest causative agent. Bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening infection. In bacterial meningitis, bacteria entered the bloodstream and traveled towards the brain and spinal cord. In some cases (sinus infection, skull fracture, and some surgeries), it directly attacks the meninges. Among, bacteria, Streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitides, Listeria monocytogenes, and H influenza are most popular. Viral meningitis is the milder form of meningitis and does not require treatment. Fungi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes chronic meningitis. It invades the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain. This kind of meningitis develops within two or more weeks. Its signs and symptoms are of similar to acute meningitis. Skipping vaccination, age (viral meningitis in children less than five years and bacterial meningitis in children less than 20 years), compromised immune system, pregnancy and living in a community system are risk factors of meningitis. If meningitis left untreated for a long time, then the risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage can occur. Hearing loss, memory difficulty, learning difficulty, gait problems, and shock are neurological disorders. Kidney damage and ultimately death can also result as the complication of meningitis.


Bacteria and virus spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing things, so some simple techniques can be used to help prevention from meningitis. For example, washing hands, practicing good hygiene, staying healthy, covering mouth and taking care of the food in pregnancy can be very fruitful techniques in prevention. Immunization is also available against this disease.

What is Encephalitis?

Encephalitis is the acute inflammation of the brain parenchyma. It is of two types; one is primary encephalitis, and other is secondary encephalitis. Primary encephalitis occurs when a virus or other causative agent directly enter the brain and cause infection. Secondary encephalitis occurs from a weak immune system reaction to an infection elsewhere in the body. The immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body when fighting disease. This is also known as post-infection encephalitis. It often occurs two to three weeks after the initial infection. In encephalitis, risk factors are age, weak immune system, geographical region and season. Children and older adults are at a higher risk of most types of viral encephalitis. People with a compromised immune system (HIV/AIDs) are also prone to encephalitis. In encephalitis, the age of the patient, the cause of infection, the severity of early illness and time from disease to treatment onset can be involved in complications. In a severe case, persistent fatigue, lack of muscle coordination, personality changes, memory problem, paralysis, hearing or vision defects, and speech impairment are the complications of this disease.


Prevention techniques from encephalitis are straightforward and can be followed in daily life. For example, practicing good hygiene, avoiding sharing utensils, getting vaccination and protection against mosquitoes.

Key Differences

  1. Meningitis is caused by virus, bacteria, parasites, and fungi whereas encephalitis is caused by only the virus.
  2. Meningitis is only of one form whereas encephalitis of two kinds; primary and secondary encephalitis.
  3. Meningitis is diagnosed by blood tests whereas encephalitis is diagnosed by neuroimaging techniques, CT scan.
  4. Meningitis is treated with Ampicillin with aminoglycosides and cephalosporin whereas encephalitis is treated with acyclovir.
Janet White

Janet White is a writer and blogger for Difference Wiki since 2015. She has a master's degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University. Apart from work, she enjoys exercising, reading, and spending time with her friends and family. Connect with her on Twitter @Janet__White