Bacterial Meningitis

The brain and spinal cord are covered by layers of tissue. These layers are called the meninges. Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis a serious infection. It is a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment. Depending on the severity of the infection, it can result in death within hours.

  • Causes


    Bacterial meningitis can be caused by many different specific bacteria. The likelihood of having one type of bacteria over another varies by age group. Severity of the infection depends on the bacteria causing it and your the overall health of your immune system.


    Transmission of the bacteria usually occurs by direct contact with oral or respiratory secretions, such as inhaling droplets from someone who sneezes or coughs, or by kissing. The spread of the bacteria depends on the time of the year, crowding, and the presence other respiratory infections.

  • Definition

    The brain and spinal cord are covered by layers of tissue. These layers are called the meninges. Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord.

    Bacterial meningitis a serious infection. It is a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment. Depending on the severity of the infection, it can result in death within hours.

    Bacterial Meningitis
    Meningitis
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  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.


    Tests may include the following:

    • Blood tests
    • Lumbar puncture—to evaluate CSF
    • Cultures
      of blood, urine, mucous, and/or pus from skin


    Imaging tests of the brain and spinal cord may be done with an
    MRI scan
    or
    CT scan.

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of getting bacterial meningitis:

    • If you have been exposed to meningitis, or are a carrier or healthcare worker, you may need to take prophylactic antibiotics to prevent infection.

    • Find out the status of you and your families vaccinations.

    • Buy pasteurized milk and milk products.
    • Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant so you can be monitored.

  • Risk Factors

    Bacterial meningitis is more common in infancy and childhood. For adults, the risk increases as you age. Other factors that may increase your chance of getting bacterial meningitis include:

    • Not having recommended vaccinations
    • Community living arrangements, such as a college dormitory or military base

    • People in close and prolonged contact with people with meningitis
    • Supressed immune system caused by certain health conditions or medications
    • Penetrating head trauma
    • Previous brain surgery, or cerebrospinal fluid shunts
    • Birth defects, such as dermal sinus or myelomeningocele, a type of spina bifida
    • A history of epidural steroid injections or other invasive spinal procedures

    • Cochlear implants

    • Alcoholism
    • Smoking, or exposure to second-hand smoke

  • Symptoms

    Classic symptoms can develop over several hours or may take one to two days:

    • High fever
    • Headache
    • Very stiff, sore neck

    Other symptoms may include:

    • Red or purple skin rash
    • Bluish skin color
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Sensitivity to bright lights
    • Sleepiness
    • Mental confusion
    • Seizures

    In newborns and infants, symptoms are hard to see. As a result, infants under three months old with a fever are often checked for meningitis. Symptoms in newborns and infants may include:

    • Inactivity
    • Unexplained high fever or any form of temperature instability, including a low body temperature
    • Irritability
    • Vomiting

    • Yellowing of the skin or eyes—jaundice
    • Feeding poorly or refusing to eat
    • Tightness or bulging of soft spots between skull bones
    • Difficulty awakening

    Complications of bacterial meningitis include:

    • Systemic infection—sepsis
    • Shock (very low blood pressure)
    • Seizures
    • Brain swelling
    • Fluid build up in the brain—hydrocephalus
    • Hearing loss
    • Vision problems
    • Paralysis
    • Coma
    • Death

  • Treatment

    More than 90% of all people with this infection survive with immediate care, including:

    • Antibiotics and corticosteroids—often given together
    • Fluids