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A to Z: Meningitis, Bacterial

Bacterial meningitis (bak-TEE-ree-ul meh-nin-JY-tus) is an inflammation of the meninges that's caused by bacteria.

More to Know

Meningitis happens when the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, become infected, usually by bacteria or viruses. Bacterial meningitis is rare, but is usually serious and can be life-threatening if not treated right away.

Anyone can get bacterial meningitis, but it's more common among groups of people who are living in close contact, like college students. Newborn babies exposed to their mothers' illnesses during delivery also can sometimes develop meningitis.

Many different types of bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis. Bacteria that infect the skin, urinary tract, or gastrointestinal and respiratory systems can spread via the bloodstream to the meninges through cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the fluid that circulates in and around the spinal cord. In some cases of bacterial meningitis, the bacteria spread to the meninges from a severe head trauma or a severe local infection, such as a serious ear infection (otitis media) or nasal sinus infection (sinusitis).

A person with bacterial meningitis might have fever, headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, extreme tiredness, irritability, nausea, and vomiting.

Untreated bacterial meningitis can lead to seizures, coma, and death. Treatment, which should be started as soon as possible, includes using antibiotics to fight the infection.

Routine immunization can go a long way toward preventing meningitis. The vaccines against Hib, meningococcus, and pneumococcus can protect against bacterial meningitis caused by these germs.

Keep in Mind

Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency.Make sure you know the signs of meningitis, and if you suspect that anyone in your family has the illness, get medical care right away.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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