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Meningitis: 12 Frequently Asked Questions


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

11. What are the long-term effects of meningitis?
The outcome of meningitis depends on the cause of the infection, how quickly treatment begins, and how ill the person becomes. However, these are possible long-term side effects of the disease:

    • Fatigue
    • Recurring headaches
    • Memory or concentration problems
    • Mood swings or aggression
    • Balance problems or clumsiness
    • Temporary or permanent deafness
    • Loss of vision, seizures, or brain damage (rare)
    • Loss of limbs

12. Is it possible to prevent meningitis?
Vaccines are available to prevent bacterial meningitis. Three vaccines are available for prevention of four types of meningococcal disease, but they don't prevent all types of the disease. If not previously vaccinated, teens entering high school or entering college (and who will be living in a dormitory) should be vaccinated.

The doctor may suggest other steps to prevent meningitis:

    • Antibiotics, if you've come into close contact with someone who has had some kinds of bacterial meningitis
    • Other vaccines
    • Good hygiene, such as regular hand washing
    • Not sharing food, drinks, or utensils 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on August 02, 2012

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