General Practice, Primary Care Doctor


Introduction to Meningitis

Meningitis is a very serious infection that can be fatal if not treated fast and appropriately.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a very serious infection that can be fatal if not treated fast and appropriately. It can progress rapidly and it is important to recognise and treat the infection early.

It is fairly rare and mainly affects children and young adults, although adults can also be affected. It is treatable and the management varies depending on what the causative organism is. However, all suspected cases are initially treated the same, with a dose of antibiotics in case the cause is bacterial (most severe).

What are the causes for Meningitis?

Meningitis is most commonly caused by certain viruses where antibiotics are not effective. However, as the rarer bacterial meningitis is more severe, antibiotics are given in case until proven otherwise.

What are the symptoms of Meningitis?

Common early symptoms include headache, fever, neck stiffness and altered mental state. There may also be leg pain and cold extremities. If two or more of these symptoms exist, patients should be given an injection of antibiotics and sent to hospital as fast as possible.

As the disease progresses, patients may have severe neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, decreased level of consciousness or may be in a comatose state. Some may experience seizures or other neurological symptoms and a characteristic rash.

The characteristic petechial (non-blanching) rash is a sign of severe infection (sepsis) and can be tested for by pressing a glass over the rash. If the spots do not disappear, this could be the cause. The rash may be only one or two spots or widespread. Although, these are symptoms later on in the infection, everyone should be aware of these warning signs, especially in young children who can’t yet communicate effectively.

How is Meningitis treated?

In bacterial infections, sepsis may develop and emergency treatment like fluids, oxygen and steroids are given. Bacterial cases are managed in hospital as it is generally more severe and requires antibiotics and fluids to be given by a needle into the vein. Severe cases may require patients to be in an intensive care unit.

Viral meningitis may be mild or severe. Mild cases are usually managed at home with rest, painkillers and medications to manage nausea and sickness. Recovery is usually between 1-2 weeks. Severe viral meningitis may warrant hospital admission and fluids may be given continually. Antiviral medications may be given in severe viral infections.

Doctors will perform and lumbar puncture, which involves a needle into your back to obtain fluid from your spine. This will reveal whether the cause is viral or bacterial and guide treatment.

Close contacts of those with bacterial meningitis may be given medication to prevent them developing the infection, even if the risk is fairly low.

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