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:

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Cancer medications

  • Syphilis

  • Tuberculosis


  • Confusion

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • 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

  • Seizures

  • 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:

  • High fever

  • 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

  • Crankiness


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.


  • Seizures

  • Brain damage

  • Loss of hearing

  • Memory problems

  • Learning problems

  • A hard time walking

  • Kidney failure

  • Shock

  • Death


  • 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.

diseases disorders nervous-system treatments health prevention meningitis

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