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Learning About Bacterial Meningitis

The brain, normal and with inflammation

What is bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis (say "meh-nun-JY-tus") is a serious infection of the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms usually develop suddenly. They start with a fever and a stiff neck but quickly get worse. More serious symptoms can develop. The infection may involve many different parts of the body and last for 2 to 3 weeks.

You will be in the hospital for testing and treatment.

Doctors use a lumbar puncture to test for this disease. This test is also called a spinal tap. A sample of fluid is removed from around the spine. The fluid is then tested to see if it contains bacteria that cause the illness. It may take a few days to get the results, and you may get treatment even before the results are known.

The doctor may also order other tests, such as blood tests, a CT scan, or an MRI.

Bacterial meningitis can be serious. It can injure your brain and can be life-threatening. You may need special care, such as being in the intensive care unit (ICU). Your care team will watch you closely and make any needed changes in treatment right away.

How is it treated?

Treatment takes place in the hospital. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection.
  • Medicines to treat other symptoms, such as fever and muscle aches, pressure on the brain, and seizures, if they occur.
  • Help with breathing. You may have a tube down your throat that is attached to a machine (ventilator).
  • Fluids or nutrition through a vein (IV).
  • Supportive care. You will be watched carefully to help prevent serious problems such as hearing loss, seizures, and brain damage.

What can you expect?

How long it takes you to get better depends on how bad the illness is. It can take from just a couple of weeks to many months. You may have changes in how you think or concentrate. These symptoms get better over time in most people.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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