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General Information

DEFINITION--Bacterial infection or inflammation of the meninges (thin membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord).

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Central nervous system.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--All ages, but more severe in persons under age 2 or over age 60.


  • Fever, chills and sweating (may be absent in critically ill persons).
  • Headache.
  • Irritability.
  • Eyes sensitive to light; pupils may be of different size.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Vomiting.
  • Red or purple skin rash.
  • Confusion, lethargy, drowsiness or unconsciousness.
  • Sore throat or other signs of respiratory illness may precede other symptoms.


    Infection caused by bacteria, from the following sources:

  • Infection in another body part, such as the lung, ear, nose, throat or sinus, that spreads to the meninges.
  • Head injury, such as a fractured skull, that allows infection to enter.


  • Newborns and infants.
  • Adults over 60.
  • Illness that has lowered resistance.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Use of drugs that decrease the body's immune responses, such as anticancer drugs.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Sinus infection or bacterial skin infections around eyes or nose.


  • Get medical care for treatment of any infection in your body to prevent its spread.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who has meningitis (depending on bacterial type). Those who have had close contact with a person with meningitis may need preventive antibiotic treatment even if they have no symptoms.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory studies, such as blood-sugar tests and cultures of throat, blood, nose or other infection sites.
  • Lumbar puncture, CT scan (See Glossary for both), x-rays of chest and head.


  • Doctor's care.
  • Hospitalization, often in an Intensive Care Unit.
  • Constant nursing to ensure prompt recognition of any possible complications.
  • Treatment for any co-existing medical conditions.

POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS--Death or permanent brain damage--including paralysis, hearing loss, speech difficulty and intellectual impairment--if not treated quickly.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Full recovery is likely in 2 to 3 weeks with treatment, if no complications arise.

How To Treat

GENERAL MEASURES----The family should stay in close contact with the patient's doctor and help by making their visits with the patient brief and as supportive as possible.

MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Intravenous antibiotics. Dosage and type will depend on what bacteria is causing meningitis, patient's age and other health factors.
  • Corticosteroids.

ACTIVITY--While in the hospital, you will need bed rest in a darkened room. After a 2- to 3-week recovery, you should be as active as your strength allows.

DIET--You may be given intravenous nutrients in the hospital. At home, eat a normal, well-balanced diet. Vitamin and mineral supplements should not be necessary unless you have a deficiency or cannot eat normally.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of bacterial meningitis.
  • Temperature rises to 101F (38.3C) or higher during treatment.
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.
  • You have had contact with someone who has meningitis.
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