What is it?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord.

The swelling from meningitis typically triggers symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck.

Most cases of meningitis in the U.S. are caused by a viral infection, but bacterial and fungal infections are other causes. Some cases of meningitis improve without treatment in a few weeks. Others can be life-threatening and require emergent antibiotic treatment.

Seek immediate medical care if you suspect that someone has meningitis. Early treatment of bacterial meningitis can prevent serious complications.

What You Need to Know

Symptoms

Early meningitis symptoms may mimic the flu (influenza). Symptoms may develop over several hours or over a few days.

Possible signs and symptoms in anyone older than the age of 2 include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache that seems different than normal
  • Headache with nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking
  • Sensitivity to light
  • No appetite or thirst
  • Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)
Treatment

The treatment depends on the type of meningitis you or your child has.

Bacterial meningitis

Acute bacterial meningitis must be treated immediately with intravenous antibiotics and, more recently, corticosteroids. This helps to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications, such as brain swelling and seizures.

The antibiotic or combination of antibiotics depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Your doctor may recommend a broad-spectrum antibiotic until he or she can determine the exact cause of the meningitis.

Your doctor may drain any infected sinuses or mastoids — the bones behind the outer ear that connect to the middle ear.

Viral meningitis

Antibiotics can't cure viral meningitis, and most cases improve on their own in several weeks. Treatment of mild cases of viral meningitis usually includes:

  • Bed rest
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Over-the-counter pain medications to help reduce fever and relieve body aches

Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce swelling in the brain, and an anticonvulsant medication to control seizures. If a herpes virus caused your meningitis, an antiviral medication is available.

Is it preventable?

Vaccines can help prevent this serious and potentially fatal illness. The standard meningitis vaccine does not protect against the meningitis B serotype, which causes about one-third of meningitis cases. Fortunately, a relatively new vaccine protects against meningitis B.

How to get vaccinated?

 

Emergency Management

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