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Antibiotics for Bacterial Meningitis

Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
ampicillin
cefotaximeClaforan
ceftriaxoneRocephin
gentamicin
penicillin G
rifampin
vancomycinVancocin

How It Works

Antibiotics kill bacteria.

Why It Is Used

Antibiotics may be prescribed alone or in combinations to treat bacterial meningitis.

How Well It Works

The antibiotic chosen depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection.

Vancomycin is effective against many bacteria that are not killed by other antibiotics.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor right away if you are taking gentamicin or vancomycin and have:

  • Hives.
  • Little or no urine.
  • Low back pain.
  • Hearing problems or ringing in the ears.

Common side effects of antibiotics include:

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Antibiotics used to treat bacterial meningitis usually are given into a vein (intravenous, or IV), 1 to 4 times a day. The number of days the medicine is given (between 7 and 21) depends on the bacteria causing the infection, the severity of the illness, the person's age, and whether the person is likely to develop complications.

People should take antibiotics only when they have a bacterial infection. Antibiotics do not kill viruses and other organisms. Because of the problem of drug resistance, people who take antibiotics when they do not have a bacterial infection may require stronger antibiotics for future bacterial infections.

Penicillin and cefotaxime are two of the antibiotics most frequently used to treat meningitis. But some bacteria (particularly Streptococcus pneumoniae) are becoming increasingly resistant to penicillin. So doctors often combine different types of antibiotics to try to kill all bacteria. For infants older than 1 month, treatment may include vancomycin and cefotaxime or ceftriaxone. For infants younger than 1 month, vancomycin may be added to the usual treatment of ampicillin and cefotaxime or ceftriaxone.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerW. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Last RevisedDecember 6, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 06, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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