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Bacterial meningitis and septicaemia require rapid admission to hospital and urgent treatment with antibiotics. If treated promptly, meningitis and septicaemia are less likely to become life threatening.
Viral meningitis is rarely life threatening, but symptoms can be very similar to those of bacterial meningitis. Until bacterial meningitis has been ruled out patients may be treated with antibiotics. Once viral meningitis has been diagnosed patients can often return home, but will need plenty of rest, fluids and pain relief.
Bacterial meningitis needs urgent treatment with antibiotics and rapid admission to hospital. Whilst in hospital, other treatments, procedures and investigations will be carried out depending on the patient’s condition.
One of the main investigations carried out to test if someone has meningitis is a lumbar puncture. This allows the doctor to quickly make a diagnosis of meningitis by analysing the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) that protects the brain and spinal cord. This fluid becomes infected when a patient has meningitis.
Sometimes treatment with antibiotics is started because the patient’s condition is too serious for a lumbar puncture to be performed. In these cases the lumbar puncture can be done when the patient’s condition has improved. If someone is seriously ill, they will require specialist care and treatment in an intensive care unit. Here the doctors and nurses can closely monitor their condition, respond to emergencies and provide immediate support when it is needed. Appropriate hospital care and treatment are essential if the patient is to make a good recovery.
Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, although, in some instances, antibiotics may be started on admission to hospital because the cause of meningitis is not known. Antibiotics are usually discontinued if viral meningitis is diagnosed. There is no specific treatment for most cases of viral meningitis. Patients need to be hydrated with fluids, given painkillers and allowed to rest in order to make as complete a recovery as possible. As an exception to this, if herpes simplex is indentified as the cause, treatment is possible with the antiviral drug Aciclovir.
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