Meningitis: Meaning, Diagnosis and Overview

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord, due to the infection in the cerebro spinal fluid (CSF, fluid in the brain).

Recovery Time

  • Meningitis may be temporary or permanent.
  • Recovery depends on the patient profile (immune power).
  • Viral meningitis may be recovered without treatment within 2 weeks.
  • Bacterial meningitis is very severe and 1 in 10 people is fatal.
  • Recovery takes from few months to years.
  • The after effects of meningitis are very severe.


  • Physical examination
  • Medical history
  • Blood tests
  • X-ray, MRI and CT scan
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Glass test
Meningitis Diagnosis

FAQs prepared by doctor

Q1.  What is meningitis?
Meningitis is inflammation of the protective layers that surround the brain and spinal cord. These layers are called the meninges.

Q2. What are the symptoms of meninigitis in babies?
In babies, you should look out for at least one of the following symptoms:
  • a high-pitched, moaning cry
  • a bulging fontenelle
  • being difficult to wake
  • floppy and listless or stiff with jerky movements
  • refusing feeds
  • rapid/ unusual/ difficult breathing
  • pale or blotchy skin
  • red or purple spots that do not fade under pressure
In older children, you should look out for:
  • a stiff neck
  • severe pains and aches in your back and joints
  • sleepiness or confusion
  • a very bad headache (alone, not a reason to seek medical help)
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • very cold hands and feet
  • shivering
  • rapid breathing
  • red or purple spots that do not fade under pressure
Q3.  What should you do if someone has signs and symptoms?
If you have identified signs and symptoms, and the patient s general health is deteriorating, you need to act quickly. Seek medical help immediately, describe the symptoms as accurately as possible and mention that you think it could be meningitis. It is best, whenever possible, to call a doctor. They carry antibiotics that need to be given immediately. The antibiotics will start to destroy the bacteria even before the patient gets to hospital.

Q4. Are there any vaccines available?
There are no vaccines to offer protection against all forms of meningitis and meningococcal disease. However, there are four vaccinations offered as part of the childhood immunisation programme:
  • Hib given to babies at two, three, and four months, with a booster at 12-13 months. It protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b.
  • MenC given to babies at three, four and 12-13 months. It protects against group C meningococcal
  • disease only. This vaccine was introduced in 1999 and is available to all those aged under 25 years.
  • Pneumococcal given to babies at two, four and 12-13 months. It protects against pneumococcal meningitis.
  • MMR given at around 12-13 months, with a booster dose before the age of 5. It protects against mumps, measles and rubella. The virus that causes mumps is a common cause of viral meningitis.
Q5. If I get meningitis once, can I get it again?
It is very unusual for anyone to have meningitis more than once, but it is possible. Most people develop immunity to the organism that has caused their disease. However, there are several different causes of meningitis and therefore it is possible, but rare, to have the disease more than once.

Q6. What are the after-effects?
The majority of people will make a full recovery, but some people may be left with after- effects from both bacterial and viral meningitis. The most common after-effect of meningitis is deafness and others include:
  • learning difficulties
  • epilepsy
  • mood swings
  • disruptive behaviour
  • sight problems
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • memory loss
  • concentration problems
The toxins that are released during septicaemia cause damage to blood vessels. This can prevent the vital flow of blood and oxygen to major organs such as the kidneys, liver and the skin. Those who have suffered septicaemia may need skin grafts and sometimes amputations.
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