December 2, 2022

Types, side effects and more

Meningitis is an infection that causes swelling of the membranes (brain) that protect your brain and spinal cord. The infection ranges from mild to life-threatening and can lead to serious long-term health effects, including hearing loss and nerve damage.

There are several types of meningitis. Viral is the most common and often solves alone. Bacterial meningitis is the most dangerous. It requires immediate hospitalization and a course of intravenous (IV) antibiotics for weeks.

It is important to seek treatment immediately if you suspect any form of meningitis to reduce the risk of serious health problems, sepsis, and even death.

We will see what types of antibiotics are used to treat bacterial meningitis, how this treatment works and what side effects can occur.

Anyone with bacterial meningitis should receive intravenous antibiotics in the hospital. Antibiotics treat many different types bacterial infections. These drugs kill bacteria or prevent them from growing in your body.

According to the CDC, key symptoms bacterial meningitis in adults include:

In infants and babies, other symptoms may occur:

  • not fed enough
  • a bulging fontanel (“weak spot” on a baby’s head)
  • irregular or slow reflexes

Your doctor may start preventive antibiotic therapy while waiting for confirmation of the type of infection you have. Several different tests can be used to diagnose bacterial meningitis.

These include:

A lumbar puncture is considered one of the best ways to identify the type of bacteria causing your meningitis infection. This test takes a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

There are many types of bacteria that cause meningitis. Treatment should be tailored to the specific cause of your illness, your age, and other health factors.

Even delaying antibiotic treatment for bacterial meningitis for a few hours can increase the probability of mortality.

Antibiotics treat bacterial meningitis in adults and children. People with known or suspected exposure to bacterial meningitis may also take antibiotics to prevent developing the infection.

Doctors may change your treatment plan based on new information they gather about your infection.

Antibiotics for adults

Although there is overlap between the antibiotics used to treat children and adults, some are only prescribed for adult use. This is because antibiotics can be hard on your body while trying to resolve a serious infection.

If you are 18 or older, the first treatment for bacterial meningitis is ceftriaxone or cefotaxime.

Other antibiotics used after the first stage include:

  • ampicillin
  • penicillin G
  • vancomycin
  • meropenem
  • aztreonam
  • rifampin
  • ciprofloxacin

Your doctor may adjust the type of antibiotic given if you:

Antibiotic treatment for bacterial meningitis usually lasts longer or shorter, depending on the type of bacteria causing your infection.

Your antibiotic treatment may also be different if you have nosocomial meningitis. It may occur rarely as a complication of neurosurgery or implantation of a medical device such as a cerebrospinal fluid shunt or deep brain stimulation equipment.

Antibiotics for children

Infants and children are particularly at risk of bacterial meningitis. Their immune system is less developed and more vulnerable to infections.

The type of treatment they receive depends on their age and usually lasts between 1 and 3 weeks.

Newborns less than 2 months old can receive:

  • cefotaxime
  • benzylpenicillin

A child over 2 months old can receive:

  • cefotaxime
  • ceftriaxone
  • vancomycin

Antibiotics for Bacterial Meningitis Exposure

Bacterial meningitis spreads through bodily fluids, including saliva. It can be transmitted if someone near you is coughing.

You may need to take a preventive course of antibiotics in case of exposure. Talk to your doctor if you think you have a suspected or confirmed exposure. They will order tests and work with you to come up with a plan.

Bacterial meningitis is always a medical emergency. You will need to be in the hospital during the treatment.

Your doctor will want to determine the type of infection you have, but may start IV antibiotic treatment while waiting for test results.

An IV is an infusion of fluid or medicine given through a tube or needle into your body. An IV will often go into the crook of your arm or the back of your hand. A secure “port” and tape hold the IV in place.

In addition to antibiotics, you may also receive the following intravenously during your treatment for bacterial meningitis:

  • a steroid to relieve brain swelling
  • fluids to keep you hydrated
  • oxygen, if you have trouble breathing

During your stay in the hospital, the medical team will carefully monitor your condition. They can regularly take your temperature and measure other vital signs. Depending on your symptoms and the effectiveness of antibiotics, you may be hospitalized for a few days or longer.

There are side effects you may experience when taking antibiotics for bacterial meningitis. Some can be quite mild, while others can be very unpleasant.

These may include:

The side effects of antibiotics may depend on your body’s response and the type of medication given. Talk to your doctor about any medication side effects you are experiencing. You may need to change your diet.

In rare cases, people have a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic. If you have trouble breathing or swelling in your throat, it could be a sign of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. Get emergency medical help right away.

Recovery from bacterial meningitis once you’ve left the hospital often takes time. Do not overwork yourself and rest well. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing and keep in touch with them to find out how your recovery is going.

On 1 in 5 survivors of meningitis have a lasting health complication.

These include:

  • hearing loss
  • brain damage
  • nervous system damage
  • loss of a limb

This risk of long-term complications increases if bacterial meningitis is left untreated or if treatment is delayed.

There are vaccines to prevent bacterial meningitis, but not viral meningitis. Vaccines against bacterial meningitis have played a key role in reducing the rate and severity of the spread of the infection around the world.

Vaccines are not 100% effective, but can provide substantial protection. In the United States, meningitis vaccines are part of routine immunization for children and adolescents. The main vaccines are MenB and MenACWYwhich act against common strains of the disease.

Here is a list of available vaccines and who should get them:

Another important thing you can do to prevent meningitis is to wash your hands regularly. This includes always washing your hands after:

  • use the bathroom
  • changing diapers or encountering feces (like pets)
  • when preparing food

Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that requires hospitalization and treatment with antibiotics. Delaying treatment can increase the risk of dying or having serious long-term health complications.

You will receive IV antibiotics and other medications and fluids to reduce your symptoms. The treatment can last one to several weeks.

Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect exposure or infection to bacterial meningitis. Keep up to date with your or your child’s vaccination schedule to better protect yourself against the disease.