Common symptoms include:
- High fever
- Stiff neck
- Nausea or vomiting
- Discomfort looking into bright lights
- Sleepiness or confusion.
In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms (such as fever, headache, and neck stiffness) may be absent or difficult to detect, and the infant may only appear slow or inactive. The infant may also be irritable, have vomiting, or be feeding poorly. As the meningitis progresses, patients of any age may have seizures.
Any person who is showing signs or symptoms of meningitis should seek immediate medical care by contacting their doctor or going to a clinic or emergency room.
(Click Meningitis Symptoms for more information.)
Early diagnosis and treatment of meningitis are very important.
Meningitis is usually diagnosed by laboratory tests of spinal fluid obtained with a spinal tap. A spinal tap is when a needle is inserted into an area in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal is readily accessible.
For bacterial meningitis, identification of the type of bacteria responsible is important for selection of correct antibiotics. The specific cause of viral meningitis can be determined by tests that identify the virus in specimens collected from the patient, but these tests are rarely done.
(Click Meningitis Diagnosis for more information.)