Bacterial meningitis: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Bacterial meningitis is the most serious type of meningitis. It can lead to death or permanent disability. It is a medical emergency.

Meningitis affects the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord and protect the central nervous system (CNS), together with the cerebrospinal fluid.

In 2006, the mortality rate for bacterial meningitis was 34 percent, and 50 percent of patients experienced long-term effects after recovery.

For this reason, treatment with antibiotics must start as soon as possible.

Several types of bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis, including Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae) and Group B Streptococcus.

Other types of meningitis include viral, parasitic, fungal, and non-infectious meningitis, but the bacterial type is the most severe.

Vaccines have dramatically reduced the incidence of bacterial meningitis.

Fast facts on bacterial meningitis

Here are some facts about bacterial meningitis. More detail is in the main article.

In the United States (U.S.) from 2003 to 2007, there were around 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis each year, of which about 500 were fatal.

Bacterial type is the second most common type viral meningitis, but it is more serious.

Infants are at high risk of bacterial meningitis, and it spreads easily in places where many people gather, such as college campuses.

Early signs include a fever and stiff neck, headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and increased sensitivity to light. Immediate medical attention is essential.

Vaccination is important to prevent meningitis. Vaccines that protect against three types of bacterial meningitis are Neisseria meningitidis (N. meningitidis), Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae), and Hib.

Symptoms

[Meningitis meningococcus]
Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the meningococcus bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of meningitis can appear either suddenly or over a few days. They normally emerge in 3 to 7 days after infection.

Early symptoms of meningitis include:

nausea and vomiting

fever

headache and a stiff neck

muscle pain

sensitivity to light

confusion

cold hands or feet and mottled skin

in some cases, a rash that does not fade under pressure

Later symptoms include seizures and coma.

Infants may:

breathe quickly

refuse feeds and be irritable

cry excessively, or give a high-pitched moan

be stiff, with jerky movements, or listless and floppy

The fontanelle may be bulging.

Meningitis rash glass test

A meningitis rash occurs if blood leaks into the tissue under the skin.

It may start as a few small spots in any part of the body, then spread rapidly and look like fresh bruises.

The glass test can assist in identifying a meningeal rash.

Press the side of a drinking glass firmly against the rash.

If the rash fades and loses color under pressure, it is not a meningitis rash.

If it does not change color, you should contact a doctor immediately.

The rash or spots may fade and then come back.

[Meningitis meninges]
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges that cover the brain.

Bacterial meningitis can be caused by a range of bacteria, including:

Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae) type B (Hib)

Neisseria meningitides (N. meningitides)

Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumonia)

Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes

Group B Streptococcus

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