Bacterial Meningitis

What is Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that affects the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord (meninges). Bacterial meningitis must be treated as soon as possible.

The infection can get worse quickly and cause permanent brain damage and long-term problems such as seizures and hearing loss.

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by bacteria. You can get infected if fluid from an infected person’s nose, mouth, or throat:

  • Gets into your brain through a wound in your head.
  • Gets into your body and travels to your brain. The bacteria may enter your body:
    • If you breathe in droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
    • If you touch something that has been exposed to the bacteria (has been contaminated) and then touch your mouth, nose, eyes, or any open wounds or cuts.
    • If you eat food that has been exposed to the bacteria (has been contaminated) by an infected person who did not properly wash his or her hands before preparing the food.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in people who:

  • Live with or have close contact with someone who is infected with the bacteria that cause this infection.
  • Have an infection in the head and neck area.
  • Have a weakened disease-fighting (immune) system.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Have traveled to sub-Saharan Africa or to Mecca.
  • Live close to others, such as in college dorms.
  • Work in health care or daycare facilities.
  • Have a cerebral shunt, a cochlear implant, or a similar device.
  • Are of a certain age, depending on the type (strain) of bacteria that caused the infection. Infection with listeria or pneumococcus bacteria is more common in older adults, and meningococcus infection is more common in adolescents and young adults.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition usually start suddenly, and they may include:

  • High fever.
  • Headache.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Irritability.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Fatigue, low energy, or sleepiness (lethargy).
  • Trouble walking.
  • A change in thinking, feeling, and behavior (altered mental status).
  • Confusion.
  • Discomfort when exposed to light or loud noises.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Seizures.
  • A rash that spreads quickly. The rash looks like a lot of small, irregularly shaped purple or red spots (petechiae) on the torso, legs, feet, eyes, and mucous membranes (such as in the mouth and nose). The rash may also affect the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on your symptoms, your medical history, a physical exam, and tests. Tests may include:

  • Lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap). This is a procedure to remove and test a sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid, CSF). This is the most important test for diagnosing bacterial meningitis.
  • Blood tests.
  • Imaging tests to check for changes in your brain that have been caused by infection. These tests may include:
    • CT scan.
    • MRI.

How is this treated?

This condition is usually treated at the hospital with IV antibiotic medicines, fluids, and nutrition. Sometimes, steroid medicine is also given to limit brain swelling. Treatment usually starts as soon as your health care provider thinks that you might have bacterial meningitis, which may be before the diagnosis is confirmed with tests.

When treatment starts, you may get a combination of antibiotics to kill the bacteria that usually cause meningitis. After your test results show which bacteria are causing your infection, you may be given different antibiotics that are effective against those specific bacteria.

Follow these instructions at home:

Medicines

  • Take your antibiotic as told by your health care provider. Do notstop taking the antibiotic even if you start to feel better.
  • Take other over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.

General instructions

  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow.
  • Try to prevent spreading the infection to others. Be sure to:
    • Avoid close contact with others until your health care provider says that you do not have a risk of spreading the disease to others anymore (you are not contagious).
    • Stay home from work or school for as long as directed.
  • Rest as needed. Ask your health care provider what activities are safe for you.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Ask people with whom you have close contact (such as people who live with you) to talk with a health care provider about preventing meningitis infection. These people may need to:
    • Start taking antibiotics.
    • Get vaccinated.
  • Stay up to date on all of your vaccinations.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Get help right away if:

  • Your symptoms get worse instead of better.
  • You develop any of these:
    • A high fever.
    • A stiff neck.
    • Confusion.
    • A rash.
    • The inability to eat or drink without vomiting.
  • You have a headache that becomes severe or does not get better with pain medicine.
  • You have a fast heartbeat.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You feel dizzy.

Summary

  • Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that affects the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord (meninges). This condition is caused by bacteria.
  • Bacterial meningitis must be treated as soon as possible.
  • The most important test for diagnosing bacterial meningitis is a lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap). This is a procedure to remove and test a sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid, CSF).
  • This condition is usually treated at the hospital with IV antibiotic medicines, fluids, and nutrition.

Bacterial Meningitis, Pediatric

Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that affects the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord (meninges). Bacterial meningitis must be treated as soon as possible. The infection can get worse quickly and cause permanent brain damage and long-term problems such as hearing loss, seizures, and learning or behavioral problems.

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by bacteria. Your child may get infected if fluid from an infected person’s nose, mouth, or throat:

  • Gets into your child’s brain through a wound in his or her head.
  • Gets into your child’s body and travels to the brain. The bacteria may enter your child’s body if your child:
    • Breathes in droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
    • Touches something that has been exposed to the bacteria (has been contaminated) and then touches his or her mouth, nose, eyes, or any open wounds or cuts.
    • Eats food that has been exposed to the bacteria (has been contaminated) by an infected person who did not properly wash his or her hands before preparing the food.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in children who:

  • Live with or have close contact with someone who is infected with the bacteria that cause this infection.
  • Have an infection in the head and neck area.
  • Are of young age or were born early (preterm).
  • Have a weakened disease-fighting (immune) system.
  • Have had their spleen removed.
  • Have sickle cell disease.
  • Have a cerebral shunt, a cochlear implant, or a similar device.
  • Have not received all recommended vaccinations for their age.
  • Have a long-term (chronic) medical condition.
  • Have frequent or ongoing (chronic) ear infections.
  • Have an infection of the nose, throat, and upper air passages that lead to the lungs (upper respiratory infection).

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition usually start suddenly, and they may include:

  • High fever.
  • Headache.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Irritability.
  • Loss of appetite or poor feeding
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fatigue, low energy, or sleepiness (lethargy).
  • Bulging of a soft spot on the top of the head (fontanelle) in babies or young children.
  • Trouble walking.
  • A change in how your child thinks, feels, and acts (altered mental status).
  • Confusion.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Seizures.
  • A rash that spreads quickly. The rash looks like a lot of small, irregularly shaped purple or red spots (petechiae) on the torso, legs, feet, eyes, and mucous membranes (such as in the mouth and nose). The rash may also affect the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on your child’s symptoms and medical history, a physical exam, and tests. Tests may include:

  • Lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap). This is a procedure to remove and test a sample of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid, CSF). This is the most important test for diagnosing bacterial meningitis.
  • Blood tests.
  • Imaging tests to check for changes in your child’s brain that have been caused by infection. These tests may include:
    • CT scan.
    • MRI.

How is this treated?

This condition is usually treated at the hospital with IV antibiotic medicines, fluids, and nutrition. Treatment usually starts as soon as your child’s health care provider thinks that your child might have bacterial meningitis, which may be before the diagnosis is confirmed with tests.

When treatment starts, your child may get a combination of antibiotics to kill the bacteria that usually cause meningitis. After the test results show which bacteria are causing your child’s infection, your child may be given different antibiotics that are effective against those specific bacteria.

Follow these instructions at home:

Medicines

  • Give your child antibiotics as told by your child’s health care provider. Do notstop giving the antibiotics even if your child starts to feel better.
  • Give other over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child’s health care provider.

General instructions

  • Make sure your child drinks enough fluid to keep his or her urine pale yellow.
  • Have your child rest as needed. Ask your child’s health care provider what activities are safe for your child.
  • Try to prevent the infection from spreading to others. Have your child:
    • Avoid close contact with others until the health care provider says that your child does not have a risk of spreading the disease to others (is not contagiousanymore).
    • Stay home from school or activities for as long as directed.
    • Wash his or her hands with soap and water often, especially after coughing or sneezing. You and other caregivers should also wash your hands often. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Ask people with whom your child has close contact (such as people who live with your child) to talk with a health care provider about preventing meningitis infection. These people may need to:
    • Start taking antibiotics.
    • Get vaccinated.
  • Make sure your child stays up to date on all vaccinations.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your child’s health care provider. This is important.

Get help right away if:

  • Your child’s symptoms get worse instead of better.
  • Your child develops any of these:
    • A high fever.
    • A stiff neck.
    • Confusion.
    • A rash.
    • The inability to eat or drink without vomiting.
  • Your child who is younger than 3 months has a temperature of 100°F (38°C) or higher.
  • Your child has a headache that becomes severe or does not get better with pain medicine.
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has a seizure.

Summary

  • Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that affects the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord (meninges). This condition is caused by bacteria.
  • Bacterial meningitis must be treated as soon as possible.
  • The most important test for diagnosing bacterial meningitis is a lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap). This is a procedure to remove and test a sample of the fluid that surrounds your child’s brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid,CSF).
  • This condition is usually treated at the hospital with IV antibiotic medicines, fluids, and nutrition.
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