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Treatment and Prevention of Meningitis

As the name suggests, meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, i.e. the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord, due to infection by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Viral meningitis happens to be the most common type of the disease. But, because symptoms of viral meningitis are usually mild, many cases remain unnoticed and, therefore, undiagnosed. Bacterial meningitis is a less common type of the disease than viral meningitis, although it is much more dangerous and can be even fatal if not treated immediately.

Various symptoms, such as headache or fever, may indicate a mild meningitis infection, with most of them subsiding after a couple of days. Symptoms of a serious meningitis infection, like vomiting, confusion or seizures, require prompt medical attention. In most cases, meningitis can be diagnosed by using medical tests, such as blood cultures, imaging tests and spinal tap.

Treatment of Meningitis

Treatment of meningitis depends on its type and cause. For instance, certain types of viral meningitis may resolve on their own within seven to ten days or with bed rest and increased fluid consumption, whereas viral meningitis caused by herpes simplex virus usually requires treatment with antiviral medications. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can also be effective in treating viral meningitis, though aspirin should not be given to children due to the risk of causing the life-threatening Reye syndrome.

Bacterial meningitis is a less common condition than viral meningitis but much more serious. It requires prompt medical intervention with antibiotics and sometimes also with cortisone medications under a doctor’s supervision. The combination of medications that will be prescribed depends on several factors, including:

  • Source of infection (e.g., type of bacteria)
  • Severity of infection
  • Presence of other medical conditions or complications
  • Age of the patient

It may take a few days for tests to determine the type of meningitis present. A doctor will typically begin administering intravenous antibiotics before the cause has been established because of the possibility of severe complications from the disease. Appropriate treatment with antibiotics can dramatically reduce the fatality rate associated with the most common types of bacterial meningitis. Treatment with intravenous antibiotics will be stopped later if test results indicate a viral infection as the source of meningitis.

Treatments aimed at dealing with symptoms of meningitis, like brain swelling, dehydration or convulsions, may also be prescribed. In addition, fluid that has accumulated in and around the brain may need to be removed. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics may be administered to relieve inflammation and pain. Steroids can also be used to treat certain types of bacterial meningitis.

Preventing Meningitis

Although meningitis itself is not a contagious disease, viruses, bacteria and fungi which cause infections that can trigger meningitis may be caught by touching or kissing an infected individual, their coughing and sneezing and sharing certain personal items with an infected person, such as eating utensils. Hence, living with someone who has meningitis may increase the risk of infections that can lead to meningitis. For that reason people in close contact with bacterial meningitis patients are often given antibiotics to help prevent transmission of the disease. For some forms of contagious bacterial meningitis, health authorities are required to notify other people who may have been in contact with the patient.

Several types of vaccines are available to prevent specific forms of bacterial meningitis. Avoiding viruses, such as herpes simplex virus or arboviruses, which cause viral meningitis, may reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Washing hands with soap kills germs and reduces the risk of viral meningitis, while the use of insect repellent may help prevent exposure to infected mosquitos and ticks. Cooking meat thoroughly can significantly lower the risk of listeriosis, which may cause meningitis in some cases.

Where to Get More Information and Help:
Meningitis Now
Meningitis Research Foundation
Voices of Meningitis