What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the covering of the brain and spinal cord. It is an infectious disease, which means it can be passed from person to person. Meningitis is usually caused by a virus
. It is a serious disease that should be treated as soon as possible to prevent long-lasting health problems. back to top
How do you get meningitis?
Meningitis is contagious, which means that you catch it from someone else who is carrying the virus or bacteria that causes it. back to top
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
The most common symptoms of meningitis are fever, headache (often severe), and neck stiffness. Bacterial meningitis tends to be more severe than viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis can cause lethargy (sleepiness) and confusion. It can also lead to a seizure
or a coma
. If you have a fever with a severe headache, with or without neck stiffness, go see a health professional right away—even if it is the middle of the night. back to top
How can you tell if someone has meningitis?
If there is any possibility that you have meningitis, you should see a health professional right away. She or he will do a physical examination. And you will probably have a blood test. The most important test used to diagnose meningitis is called a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). To do a spinal tap, a doctor inserts a very thin needle between the bones of your spine. She or he then draws out a small amount of spinal fluid. The fluid is checked to see if you have meningitis, and if so, whether it is caused by a virus or bacteria. back to top
How do you treat meningitis?
Most people with meningitis are admitted to the hospital for treatment. The treatment for meningitis depends on whether it is caused by a virus or by bacteria.
There are no antibiotic
drugs that can treat meningitis that is caused by a virus. Fortunately, most of these cases are mild. Most people who have viral meningitis recover completely after a few days in the hospital.
If you have bacterial meningitis, it is vitally important to treat it with antibiotic drugs as soon as possible. Antibiotics are necessary to save your life and to prevent serious, long-lasting problems such as brain damage. Since it may be hard to tell right away whether meningitis is caused by bacteria or a virus, your health professional will treat you with antibiotic drugs until the spinal tap results come back from the lab. This may take a day or two. If it turns out that the cause is viral, you stop taking the antibiotics. back to top
How can I avoid getting meningitis?
If you have contact with someone who has bacterial meningitis, you need to take antibiotics to be sure that you won’t catch it. For example, if you a shared a water bottle with a friend who has bacterial meningitis, you need to talk to a health professional. Don’t wait until you have symptoms to get treatment if you have been exposed to bacterial meningitis.
There are also vaccines that reduce your chances of getting meningitis if you are exposed to it in the future. In some states, you have to get the vaccine in order to attend school. Talk to a health professional about the vaccine
. back to top