Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the meninges. These are the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. It can be deadly if it is not treated within hours.

Bacterial Meningitis

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The infection is caused can be caused by many types of bacteria. It is passed from an infection person through:

  • Coughing, sneezing, or kissing
  • Fluid contact between a mother and child during birth
  • Preparing food


Things that may raise the risk of this health problem are:

  • Community living, such as a college dormitory or military base
  • Close and prolonged contact with people with meningitis
  • Travel to places with outbreaks of the infection
  • Changes in the nasal passages and throat due to birth defects or head trauma
  • Suppressed immune system caused by certain health conditions or medicines
  • Prior surgery
  • Having cochlear implants


These symptoms can start over many hours or take 1 to 2 days:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Very stiff, sore neck

Other symptoms may be:

  • Red or purple skin rash
  • Bluish skin color
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

Babies may also have these symptoms:

  • Fussiness
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Problems feeding or lack of hunger
  • Tightness or bulging on the top of the head
  • Problems waking


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

These tests may be done to look for signs of infection:

  • Blood tests
  • Blood cultures
  • Urine tests
  • Tests of mucous and pus from your skin
  • Lumbar puncture to test the fluid around the spine and brain

Images may be taken with a CT scan in some people.


Medicines will be given to treat the infection. These may be:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Steroids to ease brain pressure and swelling


Vaccines are the best way to prevent some types of bacterial meningitis.