What is meningitis? Meningitis is an infection of a person's spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
What are the signs and symptoms? For anyone over 2, high fever, headache and stiff neck are common symptoms, which can develop over several hours, or one to two days. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness. For those under age 2, fever, headache and stiff neck may not be present - the infant may only appear slow or inactive, be irritable, have vomiting, or be feeding poorly. All patients may have seizures as meningitis progresses.
What should I do if I think I may have meningitis? See a doctor immediately, since early diagnosis and treatment are very important. Diagnosis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid, obtained by performing a spinal tap.
Is meningitis contagious? Some forms are, but not through casual contact like the common cold and flu. People who have had close or prolonged contact with some patients with meningitis have an increased risk and should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.