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Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes, known as meninges, surrounding your brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms of this disorder may include the flu. But typically, if you are over the age of two you will experience sudden high fever, stiff neck, severe headache that seems different than normal, headache with nausea or vomiting, confusion or difficulty concentrating, seizures, sleepiness or difficulty waking, sensitivity to light, no appetite or thirst, or a skin rash. In newborns the symptoms are high fever, constant crying, excessive sleepiness or irritability, inactivity or sluggishness, poor feeding, a bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head, or stiffness in a baby’s body and neck. You need to seek immediate care if you notice you or anyone in your family has symptoms of meningitis such as, fever, a severe headache, confusion, vomiting, or a stiff neck. Viral infections are the most common cause of meningitis, followed by bacterial infections and, rarely, fungal infections. Because bacterial infections can be life-threatening, identifying the cause is essential. Bacterial meningitis is bacteria that enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain and spinal cord cause acute bacterial meningitis. But it can also occur when bacteria directly invade the meninges. This may be caused by an ear or sinus infection or a skull fracture. Several strains of bacteria can cause acute bacterial meningitis, most commonly: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae, and Listeria monocytogenes. Viral meningitis is usually mild and often clears on its own. Most cases in the United States are caused by a group of viruses known as enteroviruses, which are most common in late summer and early fall. Viruses such as herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps, West Nile virus and others also can cause viral meningitis. Chronic meningitis develops over two weeks or more. The symptoms of chronic meningitis headaches, fever, vomiting and mental cloudiness are similar to those of acute meningitis. Fungal meningitis is relatively uncommon and causes chronic meningitis. It may mimic acute bacterial meningitis. Fungal meningitis isn’t contagious from person to person. Your family doctor or pediatrician can diagnose meningitis based on a medical history, a physical exam and certain diagnostic tests. During the exam, your doctor may check for signs of infection around the head, ears, throat and the skin along the spine. You or your child may undergo diagnostic testing. One diagnostic test is Blood cultures which is where blood samples are placed in a special dish to see if it grows microorganisms, particularly bacteria. A sample may also be placed on a slide and stained, then studied under a microscope for bacteria. Another is Imaging. In which computerized tomography or magnetic resonance scans of the head may show swelling or inflammation. X-rays or CT scans of the chest or sinuses may also show infection in other areas that may be associated with meningitis. One last testing mechanism is a spinal tap. This is for a definitive diagnosis of meningitis, you’ll need a spinal tap to collect cerebrospinal fluid. In people with meningitis, the CSF often shows a low sugar level along with an increased white blood cell count and increased protein. Acute bacterial meningitis must be treated immediately with intravenous antibiotics and, more recently, corticosteroids. This helps to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications, such as brain swelling and seizures. The antibiotic or combination of antibiotics depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Your doctor may recommend a broad-spectrum antibiotic until he or she can determine the exact cause of the meningitis. Antibiotics can’t cure viral meningitis, and most cases improve on their own in several weeks. Treatment of mild cases of viral meningitis usually includes: bed rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter pain medications to help reduce fever and relieve body aches.

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