by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. It can be deadly if it is not treated within hours.
The infection can be caused by many types of bacteria. The bacteria is passed from an infected person through:
Things that may raise the risk of bacterial meningitis are:
Meningitis can cause sudden onset of:
Other symptoms that may develop are:
Babies may show:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may be done to look for signs of infection. They may include:
Treatment needs to start as soon as possible. Antibiotics will be given to fight the infection. Other medicine, like steroids, can help to ease pressure and swelling. Support care may be needed until the brain has recovered.
Vaccines can prevent some types of bacterial meningitis.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Meningitis Foundation of American
Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada
Bacterial meningitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bacterial-meningitis-in-adults. Accessed October 11, 2020.
Bacterial meningitis in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bacterial-meningitis-in-children. Accessed October 11, 2020.
McGill F, Heyderman RS, et al. Acute bacterial meningitis in adults. Lancet. 2016 Dec 17;388(10063):3036-3047.
Meningitis and encephalitis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Meningitis-and-Encephalitis-Fact-Sheet. Accessed October 11, 2020.
Meningococcal disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Accessed October 11, 2020.
Last reviewed October 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 8/12/2020