A procedure called a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, will help determine whether someone has meningitis. During the procedure, an area of the lower back is injected with an anesthetic, and a needle is slipped between two bones in the spine to obtain a small sample of spinal fluid. The fluid is normally clear, so if it appears cloudy and contains white blood cells, you may have meningitis.
Lab analysis will help determine which specific type of meningitis you have -- bacterial, viral, or fungal....
The speed with which meningitis symptoms develop varies. Bacterial meningitis symptoms come on quickly, usually over a period of hours. With viral meningitis, symptoms might develop over several days.
When to See a Doctor
Of course, what's disturbing about the above list of meningitis symptoms, especially for a parent, is that most are incredibly common.
So here's one important thing to keep in mind. Beyond any of the specific meningitis symptoms, children or adults with bacterial meningitis -- the most serious type -- usually become very ill very quickly.
Even though the odds of getting meningitis are very small, you should still err on the side of caution. If you or a family member have been exposed to meningitis or have worrisome meningitis symptoms, give your health care provider a call. If the meningitis symptoms seem severe, go to the emergency room right away. Getting prompt treatment for meningitis can make all the difference.