If left untreated, meningitis can cause many life threatening complications, such as losing fingers, toes, or other limbs.

Meningitis is a serious infection that causes inflammation of the tissues that protect the brain, called meninges.

Typical symptoms include headache, neck pain, and fever, and early treatment can help resolve the condition and avoid complications.

Untreated meningitis can lead to serious complications, including the loss of fingers, toes, and limbs.

Additional serious complications, such as paralysis, seizures, and even death, are also possible without prompt treatment.

Meningitis can cause a severe infection called meningococcal septicemia, also known as sepsis. When this happens, it can sometimes lead to the loss of limbs, fingers, and toes.

This is because meningococcal septicemia bacteria release toxins that attack blood vessels, causing rashes, blood clots, and a lack of oxygen throughout your body.

Since your body only has a limited supply of blood oxygen, it sends the blood to your organs to keep them functioning.

Other areas of your body, such as your skin and limbs, can become starved of oxygen. Your skin can darken and die and might need amputation.

Body parts that are a long distance from your heart, such as your toes and fingers, are at the greatest risk of oxygen loss and death.

Can meningitis cause paralysis?

It’s possible for meningitis to lead to paralysis. This happens when an infection isn’t treated quickly and causes swelling in the nervous system and spine. Weakness and spasms can also develop.

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Meningitis is a medical emergency. It’s important to get treatment within 24 hours. Although most people survive meningitis, it can be life threatening without treatment.

Early treatment can prevent meningitis from spreading throughout your body. It can prevent serious complications and death.

Early treatments can include antibiotics if your meningitis is bacterial, as well as anti-inflammatory treatments such as corticosteroids.

That’s why it’s important to get treatment if you experience symptoms of meningitis, including:

Early signs in children

Infants and small children can experience different symptoms and can have difficulty communicating them. If a child in your care shows these symptoms of meningitis, it’s important to get medical attention:

  • inability to eat
  • difficulty waking up
  • being less active than usual
  • increased fussiness
  • irritability
  • stiffness or floppiness
  • a swelling in the soft spot in the forehead

Not everyone who has meningitis will experience complications, but untreated severe meningitis has a high risk of serious complications.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 1 in 5 people who develop bacterial meningitis also develop a long lasting significant complication as a result.

Complications of meningitis can include:

The meningitis vaccine

There are a few vaccines available for meningitis. This is because multiple types of bacteria, viruses, and other infectious toxins cause meningitis. Vaccines can help protect you from the most common causes of meningitis:

  • Meningococcal
  • Pneumococcal
  • Haemophilus influenzae

Vaccinations to help prevent meningitis are part of the recommended schedule of vaccinations for children and adolescents in the United States.

Currently, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children receive their first dose of the MenACWY to protect against meningitis when they are between 11 and 12 years old. You can read more about the CDC’s meningitis vaccine recommendations here.

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Meningitis is a serious infection that can cause significant complications if not treated early.

When meningitis leads to a serious infection called meningococcal septicemia, it can result in limb loss.

It’s also possible for meningitis to lead to swelling around the spinal cord and throughout the nervous system, causing paralysis and tremors.

Early treatment can prevent these and other serious complications, including vision and hearing loss, changes in behavior and personality, and seizures.