Meningitis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment
Health Education

Treating Meningitis

Dr.Sudhir Kumar profile Authored by Dr.Sudhir Kumar on 26 Feb 2014 - 12:15.


Meningitis is a clinical condition characterized by severe headache, stiffness in the neck and fever, caused due to excitation of the tissue layers covering the brain and spinal cord. It is more common in children, teens, young adults, people with weakened immune system and those surviving long term illnesses.

Based on the cause of the disease, meningitis is categorized into two types:

1. Infective meningitis- caused by infections.

2. Non-infective- caused by conditions such as cancer, etc. 

Meningitis often results as a consequence of viral infection, but it can also caused by bacterial infection and less commonly by a fungal infection. Among all these, bacterial infections are believed to be most dangerous and can lead to life threatening events.

The two common causes of infective meningitis are:

  • Viral meningitis – It is common and in most cases, a non-severe illness, caused by viruses such as herpes simplex virus.
  • Bacterial meningitis – It is rare, but leads to serious illness, which may lead to brain damage and death. Thus, it requires prompt treatment.

Viral Meningitis:

Meningitis caused due to viral infections is often mild and may go away on its own. A group of viruses responsible are enteroviruses. Other viruses that can causes meningitis are:

  • Herpes Simplex virus
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Mumps
  • West Nile virus 

Bacterial Meningitis:

The most common bacteria causing meningitis are:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae 
  • Neisseria meningitidis
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Listeria monocytogenes

Fungal meningitis:

It is quite uncommon but causes chronic meningitis, specifically affecting people with weakened immunity. It may lead to life threatening event, if left untreated for a long time.

Other causes of meningitis are:

  • Chemical reactions
  • Being allergic to specific drug
  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory diseases

Symptoms of meningitis may appear within few hours of infection or after 1 - 2 days. Common symptoms of meningitis in patients older than 2 years are:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiffness in neck
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Lack of concentration
  • Seizures
  • Increased duration of sleep
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin rashes

Patients below 2 years old may present with the following symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Continuous crying for long time
  • Increased duration of sleep
  • Inactivity
  • Refusal to eat or poor feeding
  • Stiffness in neck and body
  • Disturbed breathing

Diagnosis of meningitis may require a judgment on the basis of medical history, physical examination and certain laboratory tests.

Medical history : To assess history of any infection and other illness to rule out other causes of similar symptoms.

Physical examination : To assess the nervous system (consciousness and alertness level, language and memory functions, strength, presence of stiff neck).

Blood Tests : To rule out the presence of bacteria or any other infection.

X-rays and computerized tomography (CT) or Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans : To obtain images of the head, chest or sinuses to rule out inflammation/infection.

Lumbar puncture : To examine your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), in which a low sugar level along with raised white blood cell count and increased protein indicates meningitis.



Exposure to following factors may increase the danger of catching meningitis.

  • Not being vaccinated or skipping the vaccination schedule
  • Children below five years of age
  • Living in a community setting where sanitation is poor
  • Being pregnant
  • Weakened immunity


Untreated or poorly managed meningitis can lead to following complications:

  • Loss of hearing ability
  • Memory loss
  • Severe brain damage
  • Fits or convulsions
  • Gait problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Shock
  • Death

Your physician will choose suitable treatment option, based on causative agent and severity of the disease. The ideal treatment approach involves different types of medicines. Treatment for the following types of meningitis include:

Bacterial meningitis

- It is often treated with intravenous antibiotics. A single dose of steroid may be given in the beginning to prevent complications due to meningitis.

-  Any source of infection in the sinuses, nose or mastoid (behind the ear) should also be treated.

Viral meningitis

-  Mild to moderate viral meningitis can recover on its own within few weeks with the help of pain killers and certain home remedies like,

  • Adequate bed rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluid

Other types of meningitis

When causative agent is other than bacterial or viral infection, the doctor may choose any of the following suitable treatment regimens:

  • Antifungal medications
  • Cortisone medications
  • Pain killers and certain antibiotics


As it is contagious and the infection may spread, the following approaches can be considered as preventive measures:

  • Maintain good hygiene
  • Stay healthy by taking healthy diet and regular exercise
  • Protect yourself from exposure to infectious agents
  • Take care with food during pregnancy
  • Do not miss following vaccinations:
  • Haemophilusinfluenzae type b vaccine
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • Neisseria meningitides serogroups C and Y vaccine
  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine 
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.