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Meningitis: 12 Frequently Asked Questions

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5. Who is at risk for meningitis?
A person of any age may develop bacterial meningitis. But it is more common in infants and young children and in people older than 60. Because of close contact with peers, teens and college students are at greater risk, too. Although more common in children, viral meningitis occurs in people of all ages. Having a weakened immune system or traveling to certain foreign countries also increases your risk for meningitis.
 

6. Is meningitis contagious?
Close contact - not casual contact at work or school - can spread the bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis. This includes kissing, coughing, or sneezing. Sharing eating utensils, glasses, food, or towels can also spread these bacteria and viruses.

7. What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?
Although symptoms may vary, the more common signs and symptoms of meningitis include:

    • High fever
    • Severe, persistent headaches
    • Neck stiffness
    • Vomiting
    • Discomfort in bright lights
    • Drowsiness
    • Lack of appetite

Later symptoms can include rash, seizure, and coma. Infants with meningitis may be lethargic, irritable, or not feed well.
 

8. What should I do if someone I know has symptoms of meningitis?
Call the doctor and describe the signs and symptoms. If you cannot reach a doctor, go to the nearest emergency room right away. If you do not have transportation, call 911.
 

9. How do doctors diagnose meningitis?
In addition to taking a history and doing a physical exam, the doctor will collect a sample of spinal fluid, called a spinal tap. The doctor inserts a needle into the lower back to remove the fluid. The doctor examines this sample for signs of inflammation and infection.

Other tests may include:

    • A neurological exam to test nerve, motor, and sensory function; hearing, speech, and vision; balance; mental status
    • Blood and urine tests
    • Throat culture
    • Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or electroencephalography (EEG) to spot problems in the brain

10. How do doctors treat meningitis?
Depending upon the severity of illness, you may need to be hospitalized. Bacterial infections require prompt treatment with intravenous antibiotics. This may begin even before diagnosis is confirmed. Treatment for viral infections is mainly aimed at relieving symptoms.

As needed, treatment may also include:

    • Intravenous fluids
    • Anticonvulsants for any seizures
    • Pain relievers
    • Other treatments for brain swelling

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