Meningitis is a rare infection that affects the delicate membranes called meninges that cover the brain and spinal cord. You or your children can catch it.
Meningitis almost always results from a bacterial or viral infection that begins somewhere else in your body, like your ears, sinuses, or throat.
Less common causes of meningitis include:
Numbness in your face
Sensitivity to light
Stiff neck so that you can’t lower your chin to your chest
Upset stomach or vomiting
Severe headache with nausea or vomiting
A hard time concentrating
Sleepiness or a hard time waking up
Lack of appetite
Lack of thirst
Skin rash (with meningococcal meningitis)
Symptoms of meningitis in infants
In infants, meningitis symptoms may include:
Crying that’s constant and gets louder when you hold the baby
Baby seems overly sleepy, sluggish, or inactive
Stiff neck or body
Bulge on the soft area on the top of the baby’s head
Poor ability to feed
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam, including checking your neck for stiffness and looking for a skin rash that might suggest a bacterial infection. They will also need to do tests that can include:
Blood tests to find bacteria
CT or MRI scans of your head to find swelling or inflammation
Spinal tap, in which a health care worker uses a needle to take fluid from around your spinal cord. It can tell what’s causing your meningitis.
Wash hands often. Rinse well. Teach your kids to wash their hands often too, especially after eating, using the toilet, or when you’re in public places.
Don’t share items like toothbrushes, eating utensils, or lipstick.
Don’t share foods or drinks with other people.
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
Stay healthy. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and rest at night.
If you’re pregnant, eat food that’s well-cooked. Avoid foods made from unpasteurized milk.
Get immunized. Follow your doctor’s advice on getting immunization shots for diseases that may cause bacterial meningitis, including flu and pneumonia vaccines.
Loss of hearing
A hard time walking
Your treatment will depend on the type of meningitis you have.
Bacterial meningitis needs treatment with antibiotics right away.
The doctor might give you a general, or broad-spectrum, antibiotic even before they’ve found the exact bacteria that caused your illness.
Once they do, they’ll change to a drug that targets the specific bacteria they find.
You might also get corticosteroids to ease inflammation.
Viral meningitis usually goes away on its own without treatment.
Your doctor might tell you to stay in bed, drink plenty of fluids, and take over-the-counter pain medicines if you have a fever or aches.
If a virus like herpes or influenza caused your illness, you might take antiviral medication.
Antifungal medications can treat fungal meningitis.