Meningitis

Our doctors have the skill and training to diagnose and treat all forms of meningitis in both adults and children. We have infectious disease specialists who can give you the care you need right away.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is infection or inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Most often, meningitis is viral. But some cases of meningitis can be caused by bacteria or a fungus. Meningitis also can occur from an injury, cancer, or certain drugs.

  • With viral meningitis, most people get better after a week or so. Babies under a month old and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have serious illness.

  • Bacterial meningitis is a rare but serious illness. It needs to be treated right away.

  • Some forms of meningitis can be passed from one person to another, including viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis.

Meningitis risk factors

There are several different risk factors for meningitis. They include:

  • Not getting all your vaccinations

  • Age (Viral meningitis usually affects young children. Bacterial meningitis is more common in patients under the age of 20.)

  • Living in group settings, such as college dorms or military bases

  • Being pregnant

  • Weak immune system

Common meningitis symptoms in adults:

  • Fever and headache

  • Stiff neck

  • Sensitivity to bright light

  • Sleepiness or trouble waking up from sleep

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • No interest in eating

  • Lack of energy

  • Abnormal mental status

Common meningitis symptoms in young children:

  • Fever

  • Irritability

  • Poor eating

  • Sleepiness or trouble waking up from sleep

  • Lack of energy

Diagnosing meningitis

Meningitis, especially bacterial meningitis, is an emergency.  Seek medical care immediately if you think that you or a loved one has meningitis.

Your doctor will give a physical exam and check for signs of infection around the head, ears, throat and spine.

Your doctor also is likely to order tests that may include some of the following:

  • Blood tests

  • CT scan

  • MRI

  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

Meningitis treatment

Treating meningitis depends on the type of meningitis diagnosed.

  • Bacterial meningitis: Intravenous antibiotics in the hospital;

  • Viral meningitis: Usually bed rest, plenty of fluids at home;

  • Chronic meningitis is treated based on the underlying cause.

Maine’s dedicated infectious disease program for children

The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center has the state’s only dedicated infectious disease program for children. Specialists treat young patients with illnesses from viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites. Meningitis, pneumonias, influenza and Lyme disease are among the conditions treated.

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