Know the basics
What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meninges). It is most commonly caused by a virus, but in some cases can be caused by a bacteria or a fungus. Some classic signs of meningitis include headache, fever and a stiff neck. Although some cases can resolve within a few weeks, other cases can be life-threatening. If you suspect you or your family members have meningitis, it is important to get checked by a doctor.
How common is meningitis?
Meningitis can occur at any ages. However, it most often affects children and adults under 30 years old. Elders are also most at risk due to a weaker immune system.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
Common signs and symptoms of meningitis include:
- Fever and chills, especially in newborns and children
- Mental status changes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck (meningismus)
- Short breathing
- Frequently unconscious
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Seek medical care right away if you or someone in your family has signs or symptoms of meningitis, such as:
- Severe, unrelenting headache
- Stiff neck
Viral meningitis may improve without treatment, but bacterial meningitis is serious, can develop very quickly and requires prompt antibiotic treatment to improve the chances of a recovery. Delaying treatment for bacterial meningitis increases the risk of permanent brain damage and other irreversible harmful effects.
There is no way to know what kind of meningitis you or your child has without seeing your doctor.
It is always important to talk to your doctor if a family member or someone you work with has meningitis. You may need to take medications to prevent an infection.
Know the causes
What causes meningitis?
Meningitis is most commonly caused by a virus. Other causes include bacteria, fungi, parasites, chemicals, drugs, and tumors.
If the infection is bacterial, the most common bacteria include: Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniac, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella species, and group B streptococcus. Bacteria spread through passing of respiratory and throat secretions (coughing, kissing). It is important to protect yourself by practicing good hygiene.
If the infection is viral, some common types of viruses may include: viruses that cause intestinal conditions (enteroviruses), viruses that causes cold sores and genital herpes (herpes viruses), West Nile virus, mumps and HIV virus.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for meningitis?
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing meningitis:
- Skipping meningitis vaccinations
- Age: Most cases of viral meningitis occur in children younger than age 5.
- Weak immune system
- Have your spleen removed
- Pregnant: If you are pregnant, you are at increased risk of contracting listeriosis — an infection caused by listeria bacteria, which also may cause meningitis
Not having risk factors does not mean you cannot get meningitis. You should consult your doctor for more information.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is meningitis diagnosed?
The doctor makes a diagnosis by looking for bacteria in a sample of spinal fluid. The doctor gets fluid by doing a spinal tap. A needle is put into a spot in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal can be reached. The doctor may also order blood tests and x-ray imaging tests of the brain.
How is meningitis treated?
Treatment for meningitis depends on the cause. For most viral infections, the doctors would treat the symptoms and wait for the infection to resolve on its own. For bacterial infections, patients may require to stay at the hospital for doctors and nurses to keep a close watch. Usual treatment may include intravenous antibiotic therapy, plenty of fluid and rest. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial meningitis. Antibiotics do not treat viral meningitis. Antiviral drugs may be given to those with herpes meningitis.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage meningitis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with meningitis:
- Understand the importance of bacterial meningitis. It is a medical emergency and needs immediate attention and treatment.
- Careful hand-washing is important to avoiding exposure to infectious agents.
If you are pregnant, need to use the food has been carefully cooked. Also avoid soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Meningitis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/basics/definition/con-20019713. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Meningitis. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000680.htm. Accessed July 14, 2016.