Bacterial Meningitis Diagnosis and Management

The number of bacterial meningitis cases is over 1.2 million each year while 1 in 10 people who have it may die from the infection despite receiving treatment.

Bacterial meningitis is an extremely serious and life-threatening condition requiring prompt diagnosis. Hence, urgent treatment is necessary to reduce the risk of death. Without adequate and timely treatment, the fatality rate of bacterial meningitis is as high as 70%.

Awareness is key to ensure that a bacterial meningitis diagnosis can be confirmed, and treatment can be administered with better outcomes.

Let’s explore with our specialists everything there is to know about the symptoms, diagnostic criteria and treatment of meningitis.

What Is Bacterial Meningitis?

Caused by an infection, bacterial meningitis is an inflammation in the meninges, or the tissue surrounding the spinal cord and brain.

When harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream and reach the brain or spinal cord, it infects the meninges in the area, particularly the pia mater and arachnoid. This results in an inflammation that can gravely impact an individual’s brain functioning.

Meningitis can also be caused by viral or fungal infections which are relatively more common. However, bacterial meningitis is the most aggressive and serious form of the condition.

It is associated with serious complications. Around 1 in 5 people who get it could suffer from strokes, seizures, paralysis, sepsis, or even death.

What Causes Bacterial Meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and make their way to the spinal cord and brain, leading to an infection in these regions.

The most common type of bacteria that results in a diagnosis for bacterial meningitis include:

  • Listeria monocytogenes: foodborne bacteria
  • Neisseria meningitidis: causes meningococcal meningitis and accounts for 11% of all cases of bacterial meningitis and is spread through respiratory fluids such as saliva
  • Staphylococcus aureus: causes staphylococcal meningitis that is found in the nasal passages and all over the skin
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae: causes pneumococcal meningitis and accounts for 72% of all cases of bacterial meningitis and is found in the sinuses, nasal cavity, and respiratory tract

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is another form of bacterium. Until its vaccine was developed in 1989, it was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under the age of 5, with 4% of cases being fatal.

Meningitis-causing bacteria may live in an individual’s body, or in the environment surrounding them. They can spread through close contact such as kissing, sneezing, and coughing due to the infected person’s phlegm, saliva, and other throat secretions.

However, the bacteria that causes meningitis is generally not contagious from one person to another.

It can also be caused by the consumption of certain foods such as hotdogs, soft cheeses, and sandwich meats which may be contaminated with Listeria bacterium. These bacteria most commonly impact babies, pregnant women, and the elderly.

Brain trauma such as surgery, sinus infections, and head fractures may also leave an individual more susceptible to meningitis-causing bacteria.

What Are the Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis?

For an accurate bacterial meningitis diagnosis, it’s crucial to know what symptoms to look out for.

Some complications and symptoms associated with bacterial meningitis include:

  • Nausea
  • Sudden fever
  • Light sensitivity
  • Confusion or altered mental states
  • Sudden headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision difficulties
  • Weakness in limbs
  • Communication issues
  • Speech, language, or memory issues
  • Seizures
  • Hearing loss

Meanwhile, infants may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Stiff neck
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Grunting
  • Sleepiness
  • Poor feeding
  • Lethargy 
  • A bulging soft spot on the top of their head
  • Convulsions
  • Vomiting
  • High-pitched crying
  • Blotchy or pale skin
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Coma

Sepsis is also a major side effect of bacterial meningitis. It can cause fatal organ failure if not addressed. Here are the symptoms of sepsis to look out for in case of bacterial meningitis:

  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Low blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling extremely cold
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Extreme discomfort and pain
  • Sweaty, clammy skin

When patients experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s crucial to check for a bacterial meningitis diagnosis.

Bacterial Meningitis Diagnosis and Treatment

Bacterial meningitis may be prevented through vaccines and immunizations that protect against meningococcus, Hib, and pneumococcus. This is crucial to reduce the risk of kidney failure, paralysis, brain damage, septicemia, seizures, and other complications.

Vaccines that protect against meningitis-causing bacteria include meningococcal, haemophilus influenzae type B, and pneumococcal.

To validate a bacterial meningitis diagnosis, blood, urine, or mucus samples must be collected. Additionally, a lumbar puncture must be performed to collect samples of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Treatment for the condition involves the use of an intravenous (IV) antibiotic with a corticosteroid. This is administered even before the test results are back to immediately reduce any inflammation. When it comes to this life-threatening infection, the prompt administration of antibiotics is essential to improve patient outcomes.

Once the test results identify the specific bacterium that is causing bacterial meningitis, healthcare practitioners can modify the antibiotic treatment to address it.

While antibiotic resistance is a potential concern for bacterial meningitis, timely diagnosis increases the effectiveness of treatment while improving the chances of recovery.

Final Thoughts

Bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening condition with serious consequences if it isn’t diagnosed and treated promptly. Hospital Procedures Consultants offers online and live courses that can help you with bacterial meningitis diagnosis and treatment while enhancing your overall knowledge about the health condition.

By familiarizing yourself with its signs and symptoms, you can quickly address and better manage the infection before it progresses and seriously impacts patients. 


Runde T.  Anjum, F.  Hafner, J. Bacterial Meningitis. StatPearls CME. 08-2023
Biere, E. Rubin, L. Moro, P. Cohn, A. Clark, T. Messonnier, N. Prevention and Control of Haemophilus influenzae Type b Disease: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Recommendations and Reports. February 28, 2014 / 63(RR01);1-14
Hoffman, O. Weber, J. Pathophysiology and Treatment of Bacterial Meningitis. Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2009 Nov; 2(6): 1–7
Pajor, M. Long, B. Koyfman, A. Liang, S. High risk and low prevalence diseases: Adult bacterial meningitis. Am J Emerg Med. 2023 Mar; 65:76-83.
Hasbun, R. Progress and Challenges in Bacterial Meningitis. JAMA. 2022 Dec 6;328(21):2147-2154
Someko, H. Okazaki, Y. Tsujimoto, Y. Ishikane, M. Kubo. K. Kakehashi, T. Diagnostic accuracy of rapid antigen tests in cerebrospinal fluid for pneumococcal meningitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2023 Mar;29(3):310-319. doi: 10.1016

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Tags: diagnosis for bacterial meningitis, treatment for meningitis

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