Meningitis Home > Bacterial Meningitis

Considered a medical emergency, bacterial meningitis requires immediate medical attention; left untreated, it has a high death rate. The condition is an infection of the tissue around the spinal cord and brain. Common symptoms include high fever, stiff neck, and headache. When treating bacterial meningitis, it is important to know which type of bacteria is causing the infection. Early treatment with the right antibiotic can reduce the risk of dying and help prevent the spread of meningitis to others.

What Is Bacterial Meningitis?

Meningitis is a condition where inflammation occurs in the tissue around a person's spinal cord and brain. People sometimes refer to it as spinal meningitis.
 
Meningitis is usually caused by a viral (viral meningitis) or bacterial infection (bacterial meningitis). Knowing whether it is caused by a virus or bacterium is important because the severity of illness and the treatment differ. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disability.
 
Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency -- immediate medical attention is required. Left untreated, the condition has a high death rate.
 
For bacterial meningitis, it is also important to know which type of bacteria is causing the meningitis, because antibiotics can prevent some types from spreading and infecting other people.
 

What Causes It?

Before the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, but new vaccines being given to all children as part of their routine immunizations have reduced the occurrence of invasive disease due to H. influenzae.
 
Today, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis are the leading causes.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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