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Meningitis

Treatment and Prevention of Meningitis

If bacteria are the cause, meningitis will be treated with intravenous antibiotics. If the patient is very sick and bacterial meningitis is suspected (but not yet proven with a culture), antibiotics are generally started before the specific bacteria are identified. In most cases, two or more antibiotics will be prescribed to kill the bacteria. Treatment may also include analgesics to relieve fever and pain, corticosteroids to decrease inflammation, and fluids to maintain electrolytes and prevent dehydration.

In recent years, anti-inflammatories for the treatment of bacterial meningitis have attracted significant attention. Although this form of the disease is caused by bacteria, the majority of damage resulting from meningitis is associated with an inflammation cascade touched off by an immune system response.

Antibiotics are used to treat only bacterial infections, therefore they are ineffective in treating viral meningitis (also, overuse of antibiotics leads to drug resistance). People usually recover from viral meningitis in a couple of weeks. Treatment includes analgesics for pain and fever, rest, and fluids to prevent dehydration. There are 25,000 to 50,000 hospitalizations in the United States from viral meningitis each year (CDC 2005 [viral meningitis]).

In recent years, researchers have made a number of advances against meningitis, ranging from the introduction of vaccines (that target the pathogens that cause meningitis) to a deeper understanding of how inflammation is crucial to the disease process. During meningitis, the immune system is activated to produce a host of pro-inflammatory chemicals, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and various interleukins (Pathan 2003). This immune-modulated inflammation causes much of the damage associated with meningitis. In the future, anti-inflammatories are expected to play a major role in conventional meningitis therapy (Pathan 2003).

Because meningitis is contagious, people should practice good hygiene. Although organisms are spread by breathing them in and are rarely contracted by touching contaminated surfaces, washing hands frequently and thoroughly is still suggested.

See a doctor if you have been exposed to someone with meningitis. Close contact with a person who has bacterial meningitis is enough to warrant prophylactic (preventive) antibiotic therapy.

What You Have Learned So Far...

  • Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissue lining of the brain and spinal cord, and is usually caused by bacteria or viruses. Viral meningitis is more common, and generally less severe, than bacterial meningitis.
  • The major symptoms of meningitis are severe headache, neck pain, and fever.
  • Bacterial meningitis is a severe problem that requires immediate medical assistance and intravenous antibiotic treatment. If untreated or not treated promptly, bacterial meningitis can lead to death or brain damage.
  • Viral meningitis has no specific treatment, but people usually recover at home with analgesics, rest, and fluids.
  • Anyone who suspects that they or someone they know (especially a child) has meningitis should see a doctor or go to a hospital emergency department immediately.
  • Inflammation associated with meningitis is caused by a widespread immune response to the invading bacteria or virus. The majority of damage resulting from meningitis is associated with inflammation Thus, it is likely that anti-inflammatories may play a significant role in future therapy.