Definition of Meningitis
Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges).
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections that usually get better without treatment. However, bacterial meningitis infections are extremely serious, and may result in death or brain damage, even if treated.
Symptoms usually come on quickly, and may include:
Signs and tests
Physical examination will usually show:
Doctors prescribe antibiotics for bacterial meningitis. The type will vary depending on the bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics are not effective in viral meningitis.
Early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis is essential to prevent permanent neurological damage. Viral meningitis is usually not serious, and symptoms should disappear within 2 weeks with no lasting complications.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Jatin M. Vyas, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 9/15/2010