Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord most often caused by germs that infect the fluid and lining. There are two kinds of meningitis:
Anyone can get meningitis, however, the following people are at greatest risk:
Viral and bacterial meningitis share many of the same symptoms which start suddenly in both. You won't know which type of meningitis you have, so act quickly. Call your physician right away if you have a severe headache with any of the following symptoms:
*Small children, the elderly, and occasional other people may not have headaches as an early symptom of meningitis. Unexplained confusion even without a headache can occasionally be due to meningitis.
There are two tests used to diagnose meningitis. The best way to diagnose meningitis is by a lumbar puncture or spinal tap. The physician injects a numbing medicine to ease the pain, then a needle is inserted into the back to take a small sample of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spine. Imaging tests such as CT scans or MRI scans of the brain may be done to look for swelling and inflammation. Other CT scans and X-rays may be done to look for a source of the infection.
There are no medications to treat most types of viral meningitis; it often resolves on its own. After you've had a medical evaluation the following may help your symptoms:
Urgent or emergency hospital care is needed for bacterial meningitis. In the hospital, fluids and antibiotics are given through an IV line, and medicine to reduce inflammation. When symptoms are severe, a tube to aid with breathing may be needed.
Meningitis can be prevented by washing your hands often with soap and water, and avoid sharing personal items such as food, drinking glasses, eating utensils, or towels. If you have had close contact with someone who has meningitis, ask your physician whether you should take antibiotics to prevent infection.