Bacterial Meningitis in Pictures

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  • What Is Bacterial Meningitis?

    What Is Bacterial Meningitis?

    Layers of connective tissue called meninges surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is a very serious infection that affects these coverings. Viruses cause most cases of meningitis, but bacterial meningitis is caused by a variety of bacteria.

    About 4,000 people in the United States got bacterial meningitis every year between 2003 and 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In that same time, about 500 people died from the disease each year.

  • The Tiny Causes of Bacterial Meningitis

    The Tiny Causes of Bacterial Meningitis

    The tiny culprits behind bacterial meningitis are bacteria that pass from person to person through close contact like:

    • kissing
    • sharing toothbrushes
    • being in extended, confined contact with an infected person

    The bacteria can also get picked up when someone has an injury or a weak immune system. The bacteria find their way into the bloodstream. From there, they travel to the brain and spinal cord.

    Some of the bacteria that cause meningitis include:

    • Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus)
    • Haemophilus influenzae (Hib)
    • Listeria monocytogenes (listeria)
    • Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus)

    Pneumococcus is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in infants and children.

  • Children and Meningitis

    Children and Meningitis

    Although you can get bacterial meningitis at any age, infants and young children are at greatest risk. Today, vaccines can protect children against three strains of bacterial meningitis: meningococcus, pneumococcus, and Hib. The pneumococcal vaccine can protect kids against a bacteria that causes pneumonia and ear infections too.

    Meningitis that’s caused by meningococcal bacteria is more common in young adults who live in close contact — for example, in college dorms or on military bases.

  • A Stiff Neck and Other Hallmarks

    A Stiff Neck and Other Hallmarks

    People who have been infected with the bacteria that cause meningitis won’t usually show signs of the disease for three to seven days. The most obvious symptom is a stiff neck, but a fever and headache are also common.

    A purple or red rash may show up on the skin. Meningitis may be harder to spot in infants. Babies with the disease can seem lethargic or irritable. Vomiting is a symptom in both children and adults.

  • Call a Doctor Right Away

    Call a Doctor Right Away

    It’s important to call your doctor immediately if you notice any meningitis symptoms in yourself or your child. Bacterial meningitis can be very serious. It can lead to hearing loss, problems with learning and memory, and trouble walking. In the most severe cases, you can develop seizures, go into shock, or even die. That’s why getting immediate medical help is essential.

  • At the Doctor’s Office

    At the Doctor’s Office

    Your doctor will look for the signs of bacterial meningitis, such as stiff neck, rash, and fever. You may need a lumbar puncture. In this test, a doctor inserts a needle into the lower back to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds your spinal cord and brain.

    A lumbar puncture can tell your doctor whether bacteria or a virus is causing your meningitis. This will help them determine the most appropriate treatment. They may also test your blood and urine.

  • Treating Bacterial Meningitis

    Treating Bacterial Meningitis

    Antibiotics — drugs that kill bacteria — are the main treatment for bacterial meningitis. It’s important to start treatment as soon after symptoms begin as possible in order to prevent complications. The type of antibiotic you receive will be matched to the type of bacteria you have.

    Your doctor may also give you steroid drugs to bring down any swelling in the brain. It’s important to drink lots of fluids to replace what you’ve lost from the fever and vomiting.

  • Preventing Meningitis

    Preventing Meningitis

    Meningitis can pass from person to person through close contact. You should avoid sharing utensils or other personal items with anyone who is sick. If you have symptoms, try to stay at home until the infection has cleared.

    Wash your hands often — especially before you eat and after using the bathroom — to kill the germs that cause this disease. Also, make sure you and your kids are up to date on all your vaccinations.

  • Avoiding a Serious Infection

    Avoiding a Serious Infection

    Bacterial meningitis is a very serious disease that can make you seriously ill. According to the World Health Organization, 10 to 15 percent of patients who get the disease die — often within a day or two after getting sick — even with early diagnosis and treatment. Those who survive may have lifelong disabilities.

    You can prevent this disease and avoid possible complications by practicing effective prevention. Make sure to get vaccinated, stay away from people who are sick, and seek medical help right away if you’re showing symptoms.

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