Meningitis: What you need to know

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Meningitis is inflammation of the coverings around the brain and spinal cord.  It is usually caused by infection, and occurs most often in children, teens, and young adults.

Two kinds of meningitis

  • Viral meningitis is fairly common.  It usually does not cause serious illness.  It can cause fever and seizures.
  • Bacterial meningitis is not as common but is very serious.  It needs to be treated right away to prevent brain damage.

Meningitis is contagious.  The germs that cause it can be passed from one person to another through coughing and sneezing and through close contact.

The most common symptoms among teens and young adults

  • A stiff and painful neck
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  •  Trouble staying awake and fatigue
  • Seizures

Young children may act like they have the flu with coughing and trouble breathing.

Older adults may have only a slight headache, fever and fatigue.

Diagnosing meningitis

  • Lumbar puncture is the most important lab test for meningitis.  It is also called a spinal tap.  A sample of fluid is removed from the spine and tested to see if it contains organisms that cause the illness.
  • Other tests such as blood tests, a CT scan, or an MRI are helpful

Treatment depends on the cause. Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics in a hospital.

Viral meningitis is more common, and most people with this form get better in about two weeks and may only need home treatment with hydration.

Preventing meningitis

The best way to protect you children from meningitis is to make sure they receive all the standard immunizations for children. These include, shots for Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) disease, and pneumococcal infection.

Your child also needs the meningococcal vaccine, which helps to prevent bacterial meningitis.  It is recommended for:

  • Adolescents at age 11 or 12 with a booster shot at age 16.
  • Young adults ages 21 and younger who haven’t been immunized should receive it as well.
  • People who plan to travel to countries known to have meningitis outbreaks.

Some people need a booster shot every five years.

Complications with meningitis

  • Prolonged fever.  Fever caused by bacterial meningitis usually goes away after 3 to 6 days of treatment with antibiotics.  Fever that continues after 6 days on antibiotics or that goes away and returns may mean that the antibiotic is not killing the bacteria.
  • Seizures.  This complication can develop because of inflammation and swelling of the brain and tissues surrounding the brain.
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).  Bleeding within the skin and tissues.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by a fluid build up in the lungs.


Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to