Bacterial Meningitis

What is bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis is a bacterial infection of the meninges (the membranes around the brain). It is a serious condition and requires urgent review by a doctor. Many different bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis, and one of the most well-known is Neisseria meningitis (the meningococcal disease). Typical symptoms are headache, neck stiffness, fever and vomiting. Symptoms can come on very suddenly, and the affected person can become very sick over a few hours. Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics, though other treatments might be needed to support the person through the illness. Early recognition and treatment give the best chance of a good recovery.

Risks

Newborn children are at the highest risk of meningitis, although this condition can affect people of all ages. Males may be slightly more at risk than females. People with other medical conditions (including a recent ear or throat infection) or who have had a recent skull fracture are at increased risk of meningitis.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms of bacterial meningitis are headache, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, fever and sensitivity to light (photophobia). Other symptoms include drowsiness and confusion. Some causes of meningitis can cause a deep purple, blotching rash. Symptoms can come on very suddenly, and the affected person can become very sick over a few hours.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based on the symptoms, the physical examination and tests which confirm the presence of a severe infection in the body. A sample of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid in the meninges around the brain and spinal cord) is taken and tested for the specific bacteria causing the infection.

Treatment

Bacterial meningitis is a serious condition and requires urgent review by a doctor. The infection is treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics (through a drip). People with bacterial meningitis are often very sick, and may need other supportive treatment (such as fluids to increase blood pressure) while the antibiotics work to fight the infection.

Prevention

Some common causes of bacterial meningitis are vaccine preventable. Keeping to the recommended vaccination schedule can help prevent some cases of meningitis. Good hygiene, such as washing hands, can also help to avoid some cases of bacterial meningitis.