Bacterial meningitis (say “meh-nun-JY-tus”) is a serious infection of the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms usually develop all of a sudden.
When you have this infection, it can injure your brain and can cause death. You may need special care, such as being in the intensive care unit (ICU). Your care team will watch you closely and make any needed changes in treatment right away.
What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?
Symptoms of bacterial meningitis usually develop suddenly. They start with a fever and a stiff neck but quickly get worse. The infection may involve many different parts of the body.
How is bacterial meningitis diagnosed?
Doctors use a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to test for bacterial meningitis. A sample of fluid is removed from around the spine. It's then tested to see if it contains bacteria that cause the illness. You may also need other tests, such as blood tests, a CT scan, or an MRI.
How is bacterial meningitis treated?
Treatment takes place in the hospital. Treatment may include:
- Antibiotics to treat infection.
- Medicines to treat other symptoms, such as fever and muscle aches, pressure on the brain, and seizures, if they occur.
- Help with breathing. You may have a tube down your throat that is attached to a machine (ventilator).
- Fluids or nutrition through a vein (IV).
- Supportive care. You will be watched carefully to help prevent serious problems such as hearing loss, seizures, and brain damage.
Bacterial meningitis: When to call
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You have a seizure.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- Your symptoms come back or get worse. These may include:
- A fever.
- A severe headache.
- A stiff neck.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- You have trouble thinking or concentrating.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You do not get better as expected.