Bacterial meningitis: symptoms, causes, treatment (and more)

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Bacterial meningitis is the infection that causes inflammation of the meninges, tissue that covers the brain and the spinal cord, and the cerebrospinal fluid. This illness is caused by bacterial invasion of the central nervous system, and it manifests itself producing fever, headache and stiff neck, but these symptoms are not always present.

Most people recover from meningitis if treated properly and immediately. However, the infection can result in permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss and learning difficulties.

This disease affects all ages, but newborns, babies and children are those who are at greater risk of contracting it, managing to reduce its incidence thanks to the existing vaccines, which are placed during childhood to protect against certain types of bacteria. Likewise, the use of antibiotics may also be indicated to prevent bacterial meningitis in people with high risk of meningococcal and streptococcal group B diseases.

The incubation period for bacteria is 4 days, so after this period the person starts to present the first symptoms of the illness, which can be:

  • high fever;
  • Intense headache pain;
  • Alteration of mental state;
  • Rigidity in the skin;
  • muscle weakness;
  • vomiting;
  • lack of appetite;
  • Fatigue and apathy;
  • Alteration of the view;
  • Paralysis that can affect only one side of the body;
  • Stains dwelling in the skin;
  • Sensitivity to light;
  • Convulsions;
  • Meningeal irritation.

In cases of meningitis in infants, the classic symptoms may be absent or difficult to detect. Infants can show depression of the central nervous system, strong condition, irritability, food refusal, vomiting, convulsions and the classic sign of the large fontanelle later in life.

See how to identify the symptoms of meningitis in children.

The main bacteria causing bacterial meningitis are: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, Group B Streptococcus, Listeria monocytogenes, Haemophilus influenzae and Escherichia coli. In addition, the risk of becoming infected with one of these bacteria increases under the following conditions:

  • Bébés y niños until 3 años, may have a greater risk of contagion by not having the immune system until mature;
  • older adultsthey are an important vulnerable group, due to their weakened immune status and different associated diseases;
  • diseasesas las neumonías, sinusitis or otitis, diabetes, alcoholism and smoking;
  • Surgical conditions and anatomical defectsas head trauma, absence of spleen and fistulas in the cerebrospinal fluid;
  • compromised immune systemas can occur in HIV infection, organ transplant or in severe malnutrition.

Other situations that can cause meningitis infection are the use of some medications, such as eculizumab or ravulizumab, for example; people who work exposed to different bacteria, such as microbiologists; people who travel to places where the illness is common, such as some countries in Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The contagion of bacterial meningitis occurs by direct contact, from person to person, through drops of respiratory secretions from the nose or mouth of an infected individual. For this reason, the patient with meningitis must use a facial mask and must avoid coughing, sneezing or talking to healthy individuals.

However, the prevention of bacterial meningitis can be carried out with the placement of a vaccine in babies, generally at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.

In addition, meningitis can appear in newborns if infected with Group B Streptococcus during childbirth, a bacteria that can be in the mother’s vagina and does not cause symptoms, this type is called puerperal meningitis. Find out more about group B streptococcus during childbirth.

Another form of contagion is eating food contaminated with bacteria. Listeria Monocytogenessuch as raw vegetables, processed meats and raw sausages, for example.

To diagnose bacterial meningitis, the doctor evaluates the symptoms present in the person, in addition to this, he could also request an analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid to examine if there is or in the presence of bacteria.

In case the test is positive, you can request an antibiogram, a type of test that is requested to identify which type of antibiotic should be used to treat certain bacteria.

Learn more about the diagnosis of meningitis.

In view of the suspicion of bacterial meningitis, urgent treatment should be carried out at the hospital with the administration of antibiotics through the intravenous route, even before carrying out the necessary measures to confirm the diagnosis. Once the results are confirmed, the specific treatment must be adjusted to the type of bacteria involved.

The drugs that can be used according to the bacteria that causes the infection are:

causal bacterium

antibiotic used

neisseria meningitidis

Penicillin G. Crystalline, Ampicillin/Amoxicillin

Streptococcus pneumoniae

Penicillin G. Crystalline or Ampicillin/Amoxicillin

Haemophilus influenzae

Chloramphenicol or Ceftriaxone

Listeria Monocytogenes


The person may be hospitalized in isolation during the first 24 hours after starting the treatment with antibiotics, being able to return home after 14 or 28 days, when it is completely cured.

It has been seen that in order to reduce mortality and complications, the physician can administer intravenous steroids early in some patients.

The sequelae of bacterial meningitis can be cerebral alterations, disorder, motor paralysis, epilepsy and difficulties in learning.

Usually, the sequelae of bacterial meningitis arise when the treatment is not carried out properly, especially in individuals with more than 50 years or children.

Verified by RJ9823 – Public Utility – cc2.0

Consult a Doctor | Translated by User2937

Content for educational purposes only

The translator user relied on the following text:

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Disclaimer – (English version>) This content has been prepared based on information from research, additional publications, or the translation/verification work of a volunteer editor of this web council. This is a non-profit service. It is strongly recommended that all details and information published be carefully verified. We never allow medication recommendations, medication package inserts or any medication guidance. We never allow partisan politics as information.

Isenção de responsabilidade – (versão em português): Este conteúdo foi preparado com base em informações de pesquisas, publicações adicionais ou no trabalho de tradução/verificação de um editor voluntário deste conselho web. Este é um serviço sem fins lucrativos. É altamente recomendável que todos os detalhes e informações publicadas sejam verificadas cuidadosamente. Nunca permitimos recomendações de medicamentos, bulas ou qualquer orientação sobre medicamentos. Nunca permitimos a política partidária como base para checagem. Para mais informações, leia nossos termos.

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