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Bacterial Meningitis Symptoms

Common symptoms in anyone over the age of two years include:


These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take one to two days.

Other symptoms of bacterial meningitis may include:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Discomfort when looking into bright lights
  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness.
In newborns and small infants, the classic bacterial meningitis symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to detect. The infant may only appear slow or inactive, or be irritable, have vomiting, or be feeding poorly.
As the disease progresses, patients (of any age) may have seizures.

Reaching a Diagnosis

Early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis are very important. If symptoms occur, the patient should see a doctor immediately.
The diagnosis of bacterial meningitis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid. The spinal fluid is obtained by performing a spinal tap, in which a needle is inserted into an area in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal is readily accessible.
Identification of the type of bacteria responsible for bacterial meningitis is important for selection of correct antibiotics.

Treating Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is important, however, that treatment be started early in the course of the disease.
Appropriate antibiotic treatment of most common types of bacterial meningitis should reduce the risk of dying from meningitis to below 15 percent, although the risk is higher among the elderly.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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