Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by an infection.
infection occurs most often in children, teens, and young adults. Also at risk
are older adults and people who have long-term health problems, such as a
There are two main kinds
- Viral meningitis is fairly common. It usually
doesn't cause serious illness. In severe cases, it can cause prolonged fever
- Bacterial meningitis isn't as common, but it's very
serious. It needs to be treated right away to prevent brain damage and
Viral meningitis is
caused by viruses. Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria.
Meningitis can also be caused by other organisms and some medicines, but
this is rare.
Meningitis is contagious. The germs that cause it
can be passed from one person to another through coughing and sneezing and
through close contact.
The most common symptoms
among teens and young adults are:
- A stiff and painful neck, especially when you
try to touch your chin to your
Children, older adults, and people with other medical
problems may have different symptoms:
- Babies may be cranky and refuse to eat. They
may have a rash. They may cry when held.
- Young children may act
like they have the flu. They may cough or have trouble
- Older adults and people with other medical problems may
have only a slight headache and fever.
It is very important to see a doctor right away if you or
your child has these symptoms. Only a doctor can tell whether they are caused
by viral or bacterial meningitis. And bacterial meningitis can be deadly if not
treated right away.
Your doctor will ask
questions about your health, do an exam, and use one or more tests.
Lumbar puncture is the most important lab test for
meningitis. It is also called a spinal tap. A sample of fluid is removed from
around the spine and tested to see if it contains organisms that cause the illness.
may also order other tests, such as
blood tests, a
CT scan, or an
meningitis is treated with antibiotics in a hospital. You may also get dexamethasone, a type of steroid medicine.
And you will be watched carefully to prevent serious problems such as hearing
loss, seizures, and brain damage.
But viral meningitis is more
common, and most people with this form of the illness get better in about 2
weeks. With mild cases, you may only need home treatment. Home treatment
includes taking medicine for fever and pain and drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated.