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What Are the Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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The symptoms of bacterial meningitis are important to recognize because untreated, meningitis can be a serious or even fatal illness. Though there are vaccines preventing some forms of the disease, knowing the symptoms, which may develop within one to seven days of exposure, helps people get treatment quickly. Some of the basic symptoms of bacterial meningitis in people over the age of two are fever, stiff neck, headache, altered mental status, poor balance, nausea/vomiting, photophobia, and seizures. In children under the age of two classic symptoms are fever, lethargy, inactivity, vomiting, disinterest in eating, irritability, and potentially seizures.

Patients over two don’t have to display all the symptoms of bacterial meningitis. The most common include fever, headache, stiff neck and altered state of mind. Fever is fairly high, an average of 101.8 degrees F (38.78 C) plus or minus approximately two degrees Fahrenheit. It’s possible to see a temperature in normal range, though generally fever is higher, or temperatures might exceed normal by about four degrees or more. Headache is usually pronounced and severe, and many people may altered awareness, not respond appropriately to questions, or simply appear confused.

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Stiff neck in patients over two years old is one of the most important symptoms of bacterial meningitis, often making it easy to differentiate this illness from other conditions like flu. Doctors have a simple test to evaluate neck motion and screen for the condition. Someone with this condition usually can’t touch their chin to the chest, or bend the head back to look up. This symptom may be enough alone to make a provisional diagnosis of meningitis, unless issues like a recent neck injury better accounts for it.

Nausea and poor balance are less frequently occurring symptoms of bacterial meningitis. About 30-35% of patients have nausea, which, when combined with more recognizable signs of illness, may indicate infection. Changes in ability to balance aren’t always present, but with other symptoms of bacterial meningitis, they help with diagnosis. Photophobia or great discomfort in bright lights or sunlight can also indicate this infection, but many disorders and some medications cause photophobia.

Children under two years of age have different symptoms, and these need to be noted by parents or caretakers so that bacterial meningitis, which can be so severe in the young, gets prompt treatment. Caregivers should always seek help when children under two have fever, crankiness, lethargy, and disinterest in food. The classic signs of stiff neck and headache either can’t be discerned or are absent in babies and young toddlers. Vomiting may occur more often in this age group and generally behavior along with fever and other symptoms is different than usual, with babies being extremely inactive.

With early intervention, treatment of bacterial meningitis may be successful, but the illness can become harder to treat as more bacteria affects the spine and brain. Some vaccinations protect against certain forms of bacterial meningitis. These include the meningococcal conjugate vaccine and the Haemophilus Influenzae type B (Hib) immunization.

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stoneMason
Post 3

Nausea and vomiting, and sleepiness are also possible symptoms of bacterial meningitis.

I think this infection is more dangerous in babies because they don't show many symptoms. My nephew had bacterial meningitis as an infant and the only thing that was abnormal was that he was fussy and wouldn't eat. There were no other symptoms. If his parents weren't extra careful and hadn't noticed the minor changes and taken him to a hospital, he might not have survived.

literally45
Post 2

@bluedolphin-- I'm not a doctor and I think you need to see a doctor right away.

As far as I know, fever can also occur in adults with bacterial meningitis. Do you have a headache and confusion? Are you sensitive to light or noise?

These are all common symptoms of bacterial meningitis. Even if you have just a few of these symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately. Especially stiff neck and fever are not symptoms that can be ignored if they developed suddenly and for no other reason (such as neck strain or injury). Like the article said, meningitis can be very dangerous but if it is treated quickly, complications can be avoided.

bluedolphin
Post 1

Do adults with bacterial meningitis also get fever? I have a fever and a stiff neck, could it be bacterial meningitis?

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