Bacterial Meningitis

Meningitis is an infection of the membrane and fluid around the brain and spinal cord. It strikes very fast. It spreads quickly through the body. And it can cause severe long-term health problems. It can even be fatal. So it is vital to get medical help right away if you think you or a loved one has this infection.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis

Call 911 right away if you, your child, or a family member has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher with any of the following:

  • Severe headache that doesn’t go away

  • Stiff neck (arching back or neck in infants)

  • Nausea or vomiting with headache

  • Sleepiness or trouble waking up

  • Irritability

  • Dislike of being handled (infants)

  • Bruise-like rash or splotchy skin

  • Sensitivity to light

Have any newborn or infant checked by a doctor right away if he or she is very irritable, very sleepy, or eats poorly.

Diagnosing bacterial meningitis

Tests that may be done include:

  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). This test takes a sample of spinal fluid from the lower back. The fluid is checked for signs of meningitis. This is the best test for this infection.

  • CT scan or MRI. These tests are often done to look for other causes of symptoms before a spinal tap is done.

Treating bacterial meningitis

This infection is treated as soon as possible. A child or adult with bacterial meningitis will be kept in the hospital. Antibiotics (medicines that fight infection) are given. These are given through an intravenous (IV) line. This is a tube put into a vein in the arm or hand. Other treatments may be recommended as well. These included removing infected fluid from the sinuses or around the brain. In some cases, steroids may also be given.

Preventing bacterial meningitis

To help prevent this infection:

  • Make sure your child has had all routine childhood immunizations on time and on schedule.

  • Ask your doctor if you or your child should get a flu shot or vaccinations against pneumonia or meningitis.

  • Call your doctor right away if you, your child, or a member of the household has been around anyone who has meningitis.