Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot be killed by antibiotics. Therefore most viral meningitis treatment does not involve medications to kill the virus. An exception is the herpes virus, which can be treated with the antiviral drug acyclovir.
Patients with mild viral meningitis may be allowed to stay at home, while those who have a more serious infection may be hospitalized for supportive care.
Patients with mild cases, which often cause only flu-like symptoms, may undergo a treatment regimen that includes:
- Bed rest (preferably in a quiet, dark room)
- Analgesics for pain and fever.
The physician may prescribe anticonvulsants such as Dilantin® (phenytoin) to prevent seizures and corticosteroids to reduce brain inflammation. If inflammation is severe, pain medicine and sedatives may be prescribed to make the patient more comfortable.
Fungal meningitis treatment involves intravenous antifungal medications.
The patient's outcome generally depends on the cause of meningitis, the severity of the illness, and how quickly treatment is given. In most cases, people with very mild meningitis can make a full recovery, although the process may be slow.
Patients who experience only headache, fever, and stiff neck may recover in two to four weeks. Patients receiving treatment for viral meningitis usually see some relief in 24 to 48 hours and recover in about a month. Patients with bacterial meningitis typically show some relief 48 to 72 hours following initial meningitis treatment, but are more likely to experience complications caused by the disease.
In more serious cases, meningitis can cause:
- Hearing and/or speech loss
- Permanent brain and nerve damage
- Behavioral changes
- Cognitive disabilities
- Lack of muscle control
- Memory loss.
These patients may need medication, long-term therapy, and supportive care as part of their treatment.