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Bacterial Meningitis

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis is inflammation of the lining that surrounds and protects your brain and spinal cord. The inflammation is caused by a bacterial infection and can be life-threatening.

What increases my risk for bacterial meningitis?

The bacteria are found in the mouth, throat, or nose. They are spread from an infected person to another by coughing, kissing, or sharing food or drinks. It can also spread from an ear, nose, throat, sinus, or brain infection. A head injury or head surgery may also spread the infection. Your risk for bacterial meningitis is increased if you are older than 60 years or between 15 and 24 years. Diabetes, cancer, or an organ transplant also increases your risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis?

Any of the following may develop within hours or days:

  • A severe headache, stiff neck, and a fever
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red or purple rash
  • Eye pain when you look into bright lights
  • Sleepiness or confusion

How is bacterial meningitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your signs and symptoms. Tell him or her if you were recently around anyone who has bacterial meningitis. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests are used to check for the bacteria that cause meningitis.
  • CT or MRI pictures may show signs of infection. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is a procedure used to take a sample of fluid that surrounds your spinal cord. Your healthcare provider will insert a needle into your spine. The fluid will be taken through the needle. It will be sent to the lab and tested for bacteria that cause meningitis.
  • A throat culture is a test that may help find the type of germ causing your illness. A throat culture is done by rubbing a cotton swab against the back of the throat.

How is bacterial meningitis treated?

  • Antibiotics help treat a bacterial infection.
  • Steroids decrease redness, pain, and swelling.
  • Seizure medicine helps prevent or control seizures.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

How can I help prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
    Handwashing
  • Do not share items. This includes food and drinks.
  • Ask about vaccines you may need. Vaccines help protect you and others around you from diseases caused by viruses or bacteria. Get a yearly flu vaccine as soon as recommended, usually starting in September or October. You may need a pneumonia vaccine. This vaccine is usually offered every 5 years. Your healthcare provider can tell you other vaccines you may need and when to get them.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:

  • You are hard to wake.
  • You have a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a headache, fever, and stiff neck.
  • You are confused.
  • You start to have trouble seeing or hearing.
  • You have a new red or purple skin rash.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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