The brain and spinal cord are covered by layers of tissue. These layers are called the meninges. Certain bacteria can cause an infection in these layers. This is called bacterial meningitis.
It is a serious infection that can cause death within hours. Quick diagnosis and treatment is vital.
Many times, the bacteria first cause an upper respiratory tract infection. Then, it travels through the blood stream to the brain.
Worldwide, three types of bacteria cause the majority of cases of acute bacterial meningitis:
Other forms of bacterial meningitis include:
Newborn babies and the elderly are more prone to get sick.
Some forms are spread by direct contact with fluid from the mouth or throat of an infected person. This can happen during a kiss or by sharing eating utensils. In general, meningitis is not spread by casual contact.
Risk factors for meningitis include:
Classic symptoms can develop over several hours or may take one to two days:
Other symptoms may include:
In newborns and infants, symptoms are hard to see. As a result, infants under three months old with a fever are often checked for meningitis. Symptoms in newborns and infants may include:
As the illness progresses, seizures and/or hearing loss can occur. This can happen to patients of all ages.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include the following:
More than 90% of all people with this infection survive with immediate care, including:
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you.
Antibiotics are given through an IV. This is started as soon as the infection is suspected. The antibiotics may be changed once tests name the exact bacterial cause. Patients usually stay in the hospital until a fever has fallen. The fluid around the spine and the brain must also be clear of infection.
These are usually given by IV early in treatment. They control brain pressure and swelling. They also reduce the body’s production of inflammatory substances. This treatment can prevent further damage.
Fluids can be lost due to fever, sweating, or vomiting. They may be replaced through an IV. It will be done carefully to avoid complications of fluid overloading.
To help reduce your chances of getting bacterial meningitis, consider the following steps:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Meningitis Foundation of American
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada
Bamberger D. Diagnosis, initial management, and prevention of meningitis. . Am Fam Physician . 2010 Dec 15;82(12):1491-1498. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/1215/p1491.html . Accessed October 12, 2012.
Beers MH, Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy . 17th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons;1999.
Meningitis and encephalitis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.n... . Updated February 16, 2011. Accessed October 12, 2012.
Meningococcal disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/index.html . Updated March 15, 2012. Accessed October 12, 2012.
Meningococcal vaccine. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/ . Updated September 24, 2012. Accessed October 12, 2012.
10/2/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for revaccination of persons at prolonged increased risk for meningococcal disease. MMWR. 2009;58(37):1042-1043. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5837a4.htm . Published September 25, 2009. Accessed October 2, 2009.
4/22/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Lee CC, Middaugh NA, Howie SR, Ezzati M. Association of secondhand smoke exposure with pediatric invasive bacterial disease and bacterial carriage: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med. 2010;7(12).
Last reviewed October 2012 by Marcin Chwistek, MD