Music fans were shocked to learn that Jeff Beck died rather suddenly of bacterial meningitis. Physicians know that meningitis is an infection that can kill suddenly. Here is what you need to know about the illness that ended musician Jeff Beck's life prematurely.
Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (the meninges) and can be from a virus or a bacteria. Only 8% of meningitis is caused by a bacteria...most commonly meningococcal, h influenza and streptococcus. Bacterial meningitis spreads and develops quickly and early diagnosis and antibiotics are critical for survival and even with treatment the death rate is over 10%. Any bacteria that enters the protected brain closed space can cause meningitis. Foods we eat that are contaminated with e coli or listeria bacteria are fairly common, but we don't normally develop meningitis from them and our immune systems protect us.
People with intact immune systems are able to fight off bacteria that invade our bodies. And nature has given us a "blood-brain barrier" that further protects our critical brain. Pregnant women, newborns, people over age 65 (Jeff Beck was 78) and immunocompromised people are at most risk. Newborns can develop meningitis from group B streptococci bacteria during passage through the birth canal.
Diagnosis is made through a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and culture of the cerebrospinal fluid. Immediate IV antibiotics can save lives. We have no information about the type of bacteria that killed Mr. Beck and we don't know how long he was ill or if he had any predisposing illnesses.
The more common meningitis are caused by viruses. Herpes virus, influenza, Covid, and even fungus (though not a virus) are the causes of viral meningitis. High temperature, stiff neck, headache, vomiting and drowsiness can all be signs of meningitis. Viral meningitis is rarely life threatening unless a person is very immunocompromised. Strict isolation is not needed and because viruses do not respond to antibiotics, supportive care is usually enough. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are very important for preventing viral meningitis.
Outbreaks of bacterial meningitis occur in group settings such as college dormitories. The meningococcal vaccine is recommended for pre-teens and teens to prevent the most common bacterial meningitis.