The type of treatment to use is determined by the organism that causes the illness, the severity of the disease, the age of the patient and overall health status.
What tests are done to identify meningitis?
A few tests may be performed to determine whether you have meningitis. Tests are also done to identify the causative agent of the disease. A virus or bacteria can cause meningitis. However, meningitis can also occur through injury, cancer, or certain drugs.
The tests include:
- A physical examination
- Blood tests
- Checking for bacteria and viruses through a lumbar puncture (taking a fluid sample from the spine)
- A CT scan to look for any complications in the brain such as swelling
Antibiotics are first administered before a doctor's diagnosis since bacterial meningitis can be very severe. Antibiotic treatment can be stopped later if a virus is found to be the cause of the illness.
Treatment for Bacterial Meningitis
There should be an immediate treatment of acute bacterial meningitis with intravenous antibiotics or corticosteroids (recent). Doing this helps in a faster recovery and minimizes the risks of problems such as seizures and swelling of the brain.
Antibiotic therapy or a combination of antibiotics will depend on the causative bacteria. Until the doctor diagnoses the exact cause of meningitis, a broad-spectrum antibiotic will be given. The two major antibiotics that are frequently recommended by doctors to treat bacterial meningitis are penicillin and cefotaxime, but certain strains of bacteria, for instance, Streptococcus pneumoniae, is known to have an acquired resistance towards penicillin. Therefore, to resolve this issue, doctors combine different types of antibiotics to provide protection from this bacterium.
Infants older than one month are provided with a combination of vancomycin and cefotaxime or ceftriaxone to kill the bacteria, whereas, for those under one month of age, vancomycin is added to penicillin and the usual cefotaxime or ceftriaxone.
The choice and selection of antibiotics totally depend on the type of bacteria that is responsible for the infection. Vancomycin proves effective and fights efficiently against bacterial strains that are not killed by other antibiotics. Hence, the goal is to control the flow of infection in the patient's body. Moreover, the mastoid sinuses that are infected may be drained by the doctor. They are the bones found in the back of the outer ear that links the middle ear.
Such antibiotics may have side effects as well. The most common side effects that may arise include:
Furthermore, an increased dose of gentamicin or vancomycin may lead to:
- An absence of urination
- Pain in the lower back portion
- A sudden appearance of hives (round red bumps or skin rashes), which is also known as urticaria
- Hearing issues or ringing in the ears
Immediate medical consultation should be done during such cases as the symptoms may lead to other serious issues.
Treatment for Viral Meningitis
Viral meningitis cannot be cleared by antibiotics, and most of the time, the infection heals on its own within several weeks. Viral meningitis that is mild can be treated by drinking a lot of fluids, bed rest, and taking over-the-counter medicine to relieve fever and body pain.
In most cases, viral meningitis does not involve any specific treatment, and the infected individuals recover completely by themselves after a period of 7 to 10 days. However, meningitis due to certain viruses such as the herpes virus and influenza may require antiviral medicine to curb their growth in the patient's body.
Antibiotics do not prove beneficial enough in the case of viral meningitis. However, they are capable of fighting off bacteria. That is why antibiotics are used to treat patients who are infected with bacterial meningitis.
To minimize brain swelling, corticosteroids may be prescribed, and to control seizures, anticonvulsant medicines are given. There is an antiviral medication if your meningitis is as a result of a herpes virus.
People with a weakened immune system or those who are at a greater risk of acquiring the infection, for instance, newborn babies, may need to be hospitalized for proper monitoring and recovery.
Treatment for Other Types of Meningitis
Your doctor may start administering antibiotics or antiviral medicines if what caused your meningitis is still unclear.
The main cause of meningitis will determine the type of medication. Tuberculous meningitis is treated with a combination of antibiotics, while fungal meningitis is treated with an antifungal medication. Since these medications can have severe side effects, treatment can be deferred until a fungal infection is confirmed.
Corticosteroids may be used to treat autoimmune diseases or non-infectious meningitis caused by allergic reactions. Sometimes, the condition heals on its own, so there is no need for medication. Individual cancer therapy is used in meningitis caused by cancer.
How to Take the Medicine
Doctors use medicine as one way of treating a health complication. To improve your health and prevent complications in the future, you should take your medication according to your doctor’s recommendation. If you fail to follow your doctor's advice and prescription, your health and life will probably be at risk.
Something can always be done in case you find it hard taking your medicine.
What Women Should Know
You should not take any medicine without your doctor’s advice, especially if you are planning to become pregnant, currently pregnant, or breastfeeding. These medicines include vitamins, over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and herbs.
The Importance of Checkups
Checkups are vital for your treatment and well-being. Always make sure that you do not miss appointments and inform your doctor in case complications arise. Knowing your test results and keeping a list of the medicines you are taking is also wise.
How to Prevent the Spread of Infection
The chance of spreading meningitis to others is relatively low. However, antibiotics may be given if you are thought to have a high chance of contracting the infection to act as a prevention. Moreover, individuals who have been in contact for a long time with a patient with meningitis must also be given antibiotics, especially if they are:
- Sharing the same house
- Sharing a dormitory room
- Sharing a residence hall in university students
- A close family member or a loved one
People who had a short exposure to meningitis may not need an antibiotic treatment.