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What is meningitis?

Meningitis (men-in-jite-iss) is an infection of the meninges (men-in-jeez)—the lining covering the brain and spinal cord. It occurs when bacteria (germs) or a virus enters the spinal fluid. The bacteria or virus may be from an ear infection, a respiratory infection, or an infected wound. A child may have flu or cold-like symptoms before the infection. The infection can spread by hand-to-mouth contact and by droplets from the nose and mouth getting into the air, such as by coughing or sneezing.

Meningitis is diagnosed by testing and culturing the spinal fluid. A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) will be done to obtain the spinal fluid. Usually it takes 48 hours for the lab to grow the cultures and find out what is causing the illness.

What are the signs of meningitis?

In infants and children up to 2 years old, the signs of meningitis may include:

  • fever
  • irritability
  • decreased appetite
  • vomiting
  • high-pitched cry
  • neck stiffness
  • increased sleepiness
  • bulging fontanelle (soft spot)
  • seizures
  • rash

The signs in children older than 2 years may include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • increased sleepiness
  • neck stiffness or pain
  • seizures
  • rash

How is meningitis treated?

The treatment for bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis is the same until the results of the culture test return. After the cultures are taken, an IV will be started for fluids and antibiotics.

Bacterial meningitis is treated by intravenous (IV) antibiotics for 7 to 10 days. If there is no evidence of bacterial infection, the IV and IV antibiotics may be stopped.

Viral meningitis - there is no specific treatment other than careful observation and comfort measures. Antibiotics are not effective in treating any viral illness. A non- aspirin pain reliever (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) may be given to reduce fever or for pain control and comfort.

Keeping the room quiet and dark may help your child feel more comfortable.

Your child will be in isolation precautions for at least 24 hours after the antibiotics are started and will not be able to leave the room. This is to prevent spreading germs to other children. Hospital workers entering the room wear gloves, a mask, and a gown.

Balancing body fluids is important so that your child does not get too much or too little. IV fluids and oral feedings are carefully measured, along with urine and stool output. At times, limiting fluids may be necessary. Blood tests may be done to help measure body fluid levels.

Nurses watch vital signs (temperature, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure) and neurological signs (level of consciousness, pupil changes, physical activity, and strength). A monitor may be used to help watch your child for any changes.

What else do I need to know?

Some bacterial meningitis may affect the child's hearing. A hearing test may be done before your child goes home and again after discharge.

For some types of bacterial meningitis, other family members may need oral antibiotics to prevent them from developing meningitis.

The state of Minnesota requires Children's Hospitals and Clinics to report some types of bacterial meningitis to the health department. Your doctor will let you know if follow-up care is necessary for your household or day care. Good handwashing can prevent the spread of infection at home and at day care.

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and pneumococcal vaccines are available to prevent two types of bacterial meningitis. You may wish to speak to your doctor about vaccinating your other young children.

When should I call the doctor?

  • any of the meningitis signs return
  • any concerns about your child's hearing


This sheet is not specific to your child, but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call the clinic.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Patient/Family Education
2525 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Last Reviewed 7/2015 © Copyright

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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