How to Treat Meningitis (Spinal Meningitis)

Meningitis, sometimes referred to as spinal meningitis, is an infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and the fluid of a person's spinal cord. Meningitis is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Knowing whether meningitis is caused by bacterium or a virus is important because the treatment and the severity of illness differ. Viral meningitis resolves without specific treatment and is generally less severe. Bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in hearing loss, learning disability or brain damage. This article will help explain the treatment of meningitis.


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    Know if you are at risk. Some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of throat and respiratory secretions (i.e., kissing, coughing). You are at a greater risk if you:
    • Are in close or prolonged contact with someone who has meningitis, such as a daycare setting or shared household.
    • Have direct contact with a patient's oral secretions.
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    Get vaccinated. Meningococcal vaccines protect against most types of meningococcal disease, although they do not prevent all cases. There are two vaccines against Neisseria meningitis available in the United States: meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), and meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4).
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    Be aware that MCV4 is the preferred vaccine for people ages 2 through 55. If your child did not get this vaccine at their 11 or 12 year old check-up, make an appointment for him or her to get it now.
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    Know that it is recommended that the following groups have routine vaccinations:
    • U.S. military recruits.
    • Anyone who has a damaged spleen or whose spleen has been removed.
    • College freshmen living in dormitories.
    • Microbiologists exposed to meningococcal bacteria.
    • Anyone who has terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder).
    • Anyone traveling to countries which have an outbreak of meningococcal disease.
    • Those who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.
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    Know that bacterial meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is very important that treatment be started early in the course of the disease.
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    Keep in mind that early diagnosis and treatment of meningitis are very important. If symptoms occur, the patient should see a doctor immediately.


  • Diagnosis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid which has been obtained by performing a spinal tap. A spinal tap is performed by inserting a needle into an area in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal is readily attainable.
  • Overseas travelers should check to see if the vaccine is recommended for their destination. Travelers should receive the vaccine at least 1 week before departure.
  • Proper identification of the bacteria responsible is important in deciding the best form of treatment (antibiotics).
  • For children under age 2, recognizing the classic symptoms (headache, fever, stiff neck) may be difficult. Be on the lookout for:

  • Know the symptoms of meningitis. For those over age 2, be on the watch for:

    • Stiff neck
    • Headache
    • High fever
    • Discomfort looking into bright lights
    • Sleepiness
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Confusion
    • Seizures


  • Untreated, meningitis can lead to loss of a limb, permanent neurologic impairment, or death.
  • Although extremely unlikely, a vaccine could cause an allergic reaction. Ask your doctor if you have had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past.

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Categories: Neurological Disorders