Treatment of Meningitis

Upon suspecting meningitis in a patient, a physician will generally commence antibiotic treatment whilst waiting for the results of a spinal tap. These results can take a few hours, and a patient’s condition can rapidly degenerate during that time. If the diagnosis comes back as not being meningitis then the antibiotics are likely to be ceased, unless another bacterial infection requires similar aggressive treatment.

Treatment for Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis cannot be treated with antibiotics and is usually left to run its course naturally with most people recovering fully within seven to ten days without need of further medical intervention. This does not mean that patients should self-diagnose and refrain from obtaining treatment as only a spinal tap can rule out bacterial meningitis, which is potentially fatal. Mild viral meningitis may still need acetaminophen (Tylenol) or other medications to relieve headache and fever. A check-up after two days is warranted to ensure the condition is not worsening. Any change in condition involving seizures, problems speaking or swallowing, weakness or numbness of the limbs and extremities with difficulty walking, heightened fever and worsening headache, excessive vomiting, or difficulty staying conscious requires medical attention immediately.

Treatment of Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis requires antibiotic treatment, usually intravenously, and can progress rapidly without adequate treatment. If the patient is unable to get to the hospital themselves, or if friends/family have no transport in which to take them, then an ambulance should be called. Basic home-treatment whilst awaiting the emergency services involves keeping the patient in the recovery position where possible, so as to prevent them from inhaling vomit if they are sick, giving acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce their fever and pain, and keeping the person in a quiet area away from light to alleviate their photophobia.

Upon entry to the hospital the patient is likely to be isolated, possibly in an intensive care unit depending on the severity of meningitis symptoms, and an IV inserted for delivery of fluids and antibiotics. A heart monitor is often used, and the patients carefully observed for changes in condition. If breathing is problematic then they may be intubated in order to assist respiratory function. In order to reduce the inflammatory response of the body to the infection and suppress the potential for an autoimmune attack, steroids may be given. Further IV lines (in the groin, chest, or neck) may be used to administer anti-seizure medications and drugs to improve blood pressure. Patients may also be catheterized so as to monitor fluid status.

Preventing Meningitis

Prevention of meningitis is helped by ensuring good hygiene habits. It is important to wash hands before contact with food, after using the bathroom, or after contact with dirt, using soap and hot water (not antibacterial/antibiotic hand-washes as these build up antibiotic resistance). Covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and then washing the hands afterwards also helps prevent the spread of germs. Ensuring vaccinations are up to date for meningitis and Hib can help prevent a person contracting the condition as can preventative antibiotic treatment if they have been in recent close contact with someone diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. Antibiotics may help prevent the disease occurring but anyone who has had recent exposure to the bacterial condition should seek medical attention if they experience a sore throat, headache, a rash, neck stiffness, or fever.

Last Updated: 10/10/2010