What is acute meningitis?

Acute meningitis is life-threatening inflammation of the tissue layers that surround the brain and spinal cord that is often caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Symptoms develop over the course of a few hours to days and include headache, sensitivity to light, and neck stiffness. A fever is often present. Acute meningitis that is caused by a virus tends to be less severe than that caused by a bacterium, and it tends to go away on its own. Acute viral meningitis is more common than acute bacterial meningitis.

Timing is critical. Most cases of acute bacterial meningitis can be cured with appropriate antibiotic therapy. Delay in diagnosis can result in rapid progression of symptoms and death. Your doctor will run a test to identify the kind of bacteria causing the infection in order to chose the best antibiotic to treat it. However, antibiotic therapy is often started right away with a powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotic until test results are available. Luckily, the most common and serious types of acute bacterial meningitis can be prevented through vaccination.

Currently, Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis. Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) used to be the most common, but the practice of routine vaccination of children has greatly reduced its incidence. The second most common cause of bacterial meningitis is Neisseria meningitidis. In the United States, approximately 6,000 people are diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis, and 2,600 with meningococcal meningitis, each year (Source: NINDS).

Other causes of acute meningitis include fungal or parasitic infections and certain medications. It also may occur as a complication of certain diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues), some cancers, and head injury or surgery.

Acute bacterial meningitis is a serious disease that can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as severe headache, unusual neck stiffness, high fever, confusion, lethargy, loss or change in level of consciousness, seizure, and unusual irritability in a small child.


What are the symptoms of acute meningitis?

Inflammation accounts for some of the key symptoms of acute meningitis, such as headache, sensitivity to light, and neck stiffness. Other symptoms can vary based on its cause.

Common symptoms of acute meningitis

Common symptoms of acute meningitis include:

  • Fever Read more about acute meningitissymptoms


What causes acute meningitis?

Acute meningitis has several potential causes, including infection, reaction to some types of medications, diseases such as cancer and systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues), and head injury or surgery.

The most common types of acute meningitis are caused by viruses or bacteria. They are contagious and spread from person... Read more about acute meningitiscauses


How is acute meningitis treated?

The best treatment for acute meningitis is avoiding it in the first place. Effective vaccines have been developed against the three most common causes of bacterial meningitis, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Neisseria meningitidis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Beyond prevention, the treatment of acute meningitis varies based on the cause.

Treatment for acute viral m... Read more about acute meningitistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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