St. Luke's University Health Network

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial Meningitis – Know the Facts!

Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that causes inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord.  Fewer than 2,600 people get meningococcal meningitis in the United States every year, but the disease can be fatal or cause permanent harm if not treated quickly.  Twenty percent of people who become ill with the bacteria have serious complications, like brain damage, paralysis, gangrene or deafness.  Even with treatment, meningococcal meningitis may be fatal.

Get Help

If you think that you or a loved one have been exposed to the bacterium, please seek medical help immediately for preventive antibiotics called prophylaxis.  People in the same household or daycare center or anyone with direct contact (from kissing, coughing, sharing a cup) with a patient's oral secretions (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend) would be considered at increased risk of getting the infection.

If you think that you or a loved one may have meningitis based on your symptoms, please seek medical help immediately for evaluation and treatment.

Questions

For specific questions on transmission locally, please contact the Bethlehem Health Bureau at 610-865-7087.

Know the Facts

Bacteria and viruses are the two causes of meningitis.  The local cases have been caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides (meningococcus). This is the most common form of bacterial meningitis in teens and children and is the second most common cause in adults.

Your risk of getting meningococcal meningitis increases if you are directly exposed through close contact to the bacterium that causes it or if you’ve recently had an upper respiratory infection (like bronchitis or the flu).  Teens, children and babies are at an increased risk of meningococcal meningitis.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary, but the most common are the following:

  • A reddish or purplish rash is an important symptom to look for – if you press against it and it does not turn white, it may be a sign of blood poisoning. This is a medical emergency!
  • sudden high fever
  • sever, persistent headache
  • neck stiffness
  • nausea/vomiting
  • discomfort in bright lights
  • drowsiness/difficulty awakening
  • joint pain
  • confusion or other mental changes
  • general poor feeling

Please see the following websites for more general information