Meningitis is an infection of the tissues and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. When bacteria cause the infection, it is called bacterial meningitis. Meningitis is a serious, life-threatening illness. It is an emergency. If it is treated right away, chances of complete recovery are good. In some cases, it may cause severe problems, including brain damage or death.
Another name for this infection is spinal meningitis.
Bacteria can spread to the brain and spinal cord:
Some forms of bacterial meningitis can be spread from person to person. If you have had close contact with someone who has meningitis, get medical care as soon as possible. Close contact includes living in the same house, going to the same day care center, or having close personal contact, such as you might have with a partner, boyfriend or girlfriend. The bacteria can be spread by coughing or kissing. If you have had close exposure to someone who has meningitis, you may need antibiotics to help keep you from getting the disease.
People who have the highest risk of getting this disease are:
Bacterial meningitis can develop quickly or may develop over several days. Viral meningitis, which is usually a milder illness, can start with the same symptoms. The most common symptoms are sudden onset of fever, headache, and a stiff neck. Your child’s neck may be so stiff that he can't touch his chin to his chest. If your child has these symptoms, it is very important to get medical care right away.
Other symptoms may include:
Later symptoms may include:
In severe cases, it can cause coma and death.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child.
Tests may include:
Treatment must start right away and your child will stay in the hospital. Your child will be given antibiotics for 1 to 3 weeks. Your child may need to keep taking antibiotics after going home from the hospital.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:
Ask your child’s healthcare provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Three childhood immunizations help prevent bacterial meningitis. These shots are:
Check with your healthcare provider to see if your child or others in your family are up to date with their shots or if they need more shots.
To prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis to others if your child is sick and after leaving the hospital: