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Meningitis: Everything You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Veronika Caraos · Updated Jan 27, 2023

    Meningitis: Everything You Need to Know

    Meningitis is commonly caused by a viral infection, but can also be caused by bacterial and fungal infections. When a person has this condition, the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, called meninges, become infected and inflamed. Some cases have shown to be able to improve without treatment in a few weeks, but others can easily become life-threatening. This is why immediate medical care should be sought if someone suspects themselves or anyone else of having this condition.

    Symptoms of meningitis

    Signs of this illness can vary depending on the age of the person.

    Symptoms in babies

    In babies and young children, symptoms often occur in the forms of:

    • Fever
    • Refusing to feed
    • Being difficult to wake
    • Purple to red rashes or bruises
    • High moaning cries and irritability
    • Pale, blotchy skin

    Symptoms in children and adults

    In children of the age three or older as well as in adults, symptoms manifest as:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Neck stiffness
  • Joint pains
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion and other behavioral changes
  • Purple to red rashes or bruises
  • Discomfort when looking at bright lights and other visual problems
  • Diagnosis

    To diagnose a patient, doctors may order several tests or they may need to seek a specialist’s advice. It is important to determine whether the condition is viral or bacterial.

    Some of the things doctors do to diagnose a patient include the following:

  • Ask the patient their detailed history of symptoms
  • Perform a clinical/physical examination
  • Take blood tests
  • Perform a lumbar puncture, which is when spinal fluid is removed using a needle in order to examine for bacteria
  • What is the difference between the bacterial and viral kinds?

    Bacterial meningitis

    Bacterial meningitis is the more serious form of the two. It is commonly caused by three types of bacteria, which are:

    • Haemophilus influenzae type b
    • Neisseria meningitidis
    • Streptococcus pneumoniae

    People of all ages can actually carry these bacteria without becoming ill, but they could infect others by coughing or sneezing. If a person is infected with the bacterial kind, it is strongly advised for them to seek medical attention immediately.

    Treatment and prevention

    To treat this condition, doctors give patients under hospital care intravenous antibiotics. Anti-convulsant, cortisone, and sedative medications may also be used in case of complications.

    Bacterial meningitis can be prevented by immunization. The specific vaccines that can protect a person from bacterial meningitis are the Hib immunization, the meningococcal ACWY vaccine, the Meningococcal B vaccine, and the Pneumococcal vaccine.

    Viral meningitis

    A number of different viruses cause this condition. These include:

  • Enteroviruses
  • Coxsackieviruses
  • Mumps virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Viral meningitis is often a complication of another (systemic) viral illness. This type is actually more common and is easier to recover from. However, it can occasionally become serious.

    Treatment and prevention

    Doctors advise patients to rest, keep warm, and comfortable, and to drink plenty of fluids. Such is the case with any other viral infection. Should the infection become more severe, the patient should go to the hospital.

    To prevent this type of meningitis, people should wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet, changing a diaper, blowing their nose, and before touching food. It also helps to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing. In addition, experts advise people who are feeling unwell to stay home.

    Key takeaway

    Meningitis occurs when the meninges around the spine and brain become inflamed. Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections cause this condition. The symptoms in adults include headaches, fever, vomiting, joint pains, and neck stiffness. Treatment depends on the identified cause of the condition.

    Learn more about Meningitis here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Veronika Caraos · Updated Jan 27, 2023

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