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Meningitis occurs when the lining of the brain and spinal cord (the “meninges”) is inflamed or infected. There are two main types of meningitis: viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis.

Viral meningitis is sometimes called aseptic meningitis; however, they are not the same types of meningitis. Aseptic meningitis refers to meningitis that is caused by anything other than bacteria, which can include viruses, as well as other organisms and diseases.

Meningitis: what you should know

  • Meningitis symptoms include the following:
    • Fever
    • A change in mental state (including confusion, memory loss, having a loss of consciousness or alertness, etc.)
    • A stiff neck
    • Headache
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Vomiting or nausea
  • In addition, babies with meningitis can have a bulging soft spot in their skull
  • Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency. If not treated quickly, it can lead to brain damage or even death.
  • Viral meningitis can be caused by many viruses, including the herpes virus and West Nile virus (typically transmitted by mosquitoes).
  • Some kinds of bacterial meningitis are contagious, depending on the type of bacteria.

How can I get help for meningitis?

  • Call 911 or go to the emergency room if the following symptoms come on quickly:
    • Fever
    • A change in mental state
    • Headache
    • Neck stiffness
  • Viral and bacterial meningitis cause similar symptoms. It is critical to learn from a medical provider which type of meningitis you have. While viral meningitis is rarely serious, bacterial meningitis must be treated quickly to prevent brain damage or death. 

Care for meningitis at Rush

  • Care for meningitis depends on which type it is. Along with other tests, physicians typically take a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to determine whether the type of meningitis you have.
  • Bacterial meningitis care typically includes the following:
    • Antibiotics: These are typically the first therapy given to fight the bacterial infection causing the meningitis.
    • Steroids: Corticosteroids are typically used to relieve pressure in the brain.
  • Viral meningitis care typically includes the following:
    • Steroids: Corticosteroids may be used to relieve pressure in the brain.
    • Medications: Viruses do not respond to antibiotics, as bacteria do. If the viral meningitis is caused by the herpes virus, physicians may prescribe an antiviral drug specifically for herpes. If inflammation is severe, physicians may prescribe pain relievers to make you more comfortable.

Why choose Rush for meningitis care

  • Rush’s neurological sciences and neurological surgery programs are consistently rated among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
  • If a patient needs hospitalization for treatment of bacterial meningitis, Rush can help. Rush’s neurocritical care unit is one of the busiest and most experienced in Illinois.

Departments and programs that treat this condition