If you are worried that you or someone you care for may have meningitis, see your doctor immediately. If your doctor is not available, go to your nearest emergency department.
People with meningitis will usually be admitted to hospital, although some people with viral meningitis can be cared for at home with close medical supervision.
A test called a lumbar puncture is sometimes performed to help diagnose meningitis. This involves putting a needle into the base of the spine to take a sample of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spine. The fluid is examined to see what type of infection has caused the meningitis.
Treatment will depend on the type of infection has caused the meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated quickly. If bacterial meningitis is diagnosed, antibiotics (often injectable or intravenous) will be used. They may need to be given for up to three weeks. Other medicines such as corticosteroids may also be given to help reduce the risk of complications, such as brain swelling or seizures.
People in close contact are sometimes given antibiotics to reduce their risk of developing the illness.
There is no specific treatment for viral meningitis and patients usually get better with plenty of rest and fluids alone. Paracetamol can be used to ease any symptoms of headache and fever. Children with viral meningitis should stay home from school or day care until they feel well.
Viral meningitis is not treated with antibiotics because antibiotics are not effective against viral illnesses.
Meningitis that’s caused by a fungus is treated with intravenous and oral anti-fungal medicine.
Last reviewed: September 2018