Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Although rare, the bacterial type of meningitis is very serious and can cause brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities or even death. It is an emergency and requires immediate medical treatment.
Symptoms usually develop quickly, over a few hours or days, and may include:
- High fever
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
- Abnormal sleepiness or difficulty waking up
- Bulging fontanelles, or soft spots (in infants)
- Poor feeding or irritability (in children)
Because bacterial meningitis is very serious, the diagnosis needs to be made quickly so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. When people come into the North Shore-LIJ Health System with these symptoms, physicians first perform a physical exam.
If your physician suspects bacterial meningitis, one or more of the following tests can confirm the diagnosis:
- Blood culture to test for bacteria that cause meningitis
- Lumbar puncture to test fluid near the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid) for bacteria
- CT scan of the head to detect inflammation or rule out other conditions
The in-house lab at North Shore-LIJ can quickly process these tests so that physicians can start treatment right away. For bacterial meningitis, the lab can culture (grow) the bacteria to identify the specific type causing the infection. The infectious disease specialists can then prescribe the best antibiotic to treat the bacteria.