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What is Bacterial Meningitis?

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Worldwide, bacterial meningitis causes 170,000 deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. A person with bacterial meningitis has a bacterial infection that caused the inflammation of the meninges — the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain.

Bacterial meningitis is less common than viral meningitis, in which the inflammation is caused by a viral infection. The MayoClinic.com explained that the inflammation occurs when the bacteria enters into the patient’s bloodstream and travels up to the meninges. The inflammation can also occur with a skull fracture, ear infection or sinus infection, in which the bacteria can directly affect the meninges.

Several types of bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke noted that the most common and serious type of bacterial meningitis, pneumococcal meningitis, is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia; about 6,000 people in the United States each year have this type of meningitis.

Neurological damage can occur with pneumococcal meningitis. The severity of damage can range from deafness to severe brain damage. Two types of vaccines are available for pneumococcal meningitis: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) and pneumoccal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV).

Haemophilus meningitis, caused by the bacterium Haemophilus influenza, used to be the most common type of bacterial meningitis. The number of cases has been reduced because of the vaccine.

Another serious form of bacterial meningitis is meningococcal meningitis. Caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, meningococcal meningitis affects 2,600 people each year. Of the people affected, 10 to 15 percent die and another 10 to 15 percent have brain damage.

A vaccine is available for meningococcal meningitis: meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). Other types of bacterial meningitis include mycobacterium tuberculosis meningitis, escherichia coli meningitis and listeria monocytogenese meningitis.

Patients with bacterial meningitis require immediate treatment to minimize complications. Medications include intravenous antibiotics and cortisone-like drugs. The type of antibiotic given to the patient will depend on the type of bacterium causing the inflammation.

The MayoClinic.com noted that the patient may receive a broad-spectrum antibiotic until the doctor determines the exact bacterium. Children with bacterial meningitis may require additional treatment if they also have dehydration, brain swelling or convulsions.


World Health Organization. Bacterial Meningitis. Web. 7 November 2011.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningitis: Questions and Answers. Web. 7 November 2011.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet. Web. 7 November 2011.

MayoClinic.com. Meningitis. Web. 7 November 2011.

Reviewed November 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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