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Bacterial Meningitis

Admission Information and Discharge Instructions

What is bacterial meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the tissues and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. When bacteria invade these areas it is called bacterial meningitis.

What is the cause?

Bacteria can spread to the brain and spinal cord directly from a nearby infection, through the bloodstream, or can be caught from a person who has bacterial meningitis.

It is very important to find out whether a bacteria or a virus is causing the meningitis. Children with viral meningitis usually get better without special treatment, but bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening and need immediate treatment with antibiotics.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Spinal Tap: The only way to diagnose meningitis is to get a small sample of spinal fluid and test it. This is done with a spinal tap (also known as a lumbar puncture).
    • After your child's back has been numbed, a small needle is inserted in the spinal canal to collect a sample of spinal fluid. The lab can look at the spinal fluid and tell if the meningitis is more likely to be viral or bacterial.
    • This procedure is very safe because it is done below the end of the spinal cord, so there is no risk of paralysis. Your child may have a headache after the procedure. Your child's body will replace the spinal fluid removed within hours.
  • Other tests: Your healthcare provider may order additional tests to help find the cause of your child's illness.

Admission to the hospital

Your child needs to be treated in a hospital. Your child will be watched closely for other problems that may develop. In the hospital your child will receive:

  • Antibiotics by vein (intravenous or IV) at first. Your child may need to take antibiotics by mouth after he or she is home from the hospital.
  • Fluids given by IV at first and then by mouth
  • Pain medicine to make your child more comfortable
  • Other medicines

Why was my child admitted to the hospital?

Main complication: ________________________________________.

__ Needs IV fluids.

__ Needs IV antibiotic or other medication.

__ Other reasons: _________________________________________.

How long will it last?

Bacterial meningitis is a serious, life-threatening illness. Children with bacterial meningitis may recover without any problems if the infection is found quickly and treated with antibiotics. Even with treatment, some types of meningitis can cause brain damage ranging from deafness to paralysis or even death.

What are the requirements for discharge?

  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________

How can I take care of my child?


Your child will receive antibiotics through a vein and other supportive care in the hospital. The IV antibiotics are usually given for 2 weeks. Sometimes IV antibiotics may be given at home. Your healthcare provider will discuss this with you.

Other Medicines

  • For pain or fever over 102F (39C) give _______________________
  • ______________________________________________________
  • ______________________________________________________

Additional Instructions

  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________

When should my child be seen again?

___ Your child needs to be rechecked and has an appointment on _____________ at _______ with _________________________.

___ Your child needs to be rechecked in ________ days. Call your child's healthcare provider to make an appointment.

___ A follow-up appointment is not necessary. Call the healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

How can I help prevent the spread of meningitis?

The bacteria that cause meningitis can be passed from person to person. Your child will be contagious for 2 days to 2 weeks, depending on the bacteria. Your healthcare provider will let you know when your child is no longer contagious and can return to normal activities. To prevent meningitis from spreading to others:

  • Wash your child's hands frequently.
  • Wash your hands frequently and make sure anyone who has contact with your child does the same.
  • Do not let family members share cups or utensils.
  • Avoid contact with saliva, such as by kissing a child.
  • Follow your provider's instructions about other family members taking medicine or being vaccinated to prevent the disease from spreading.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?


  • Your child starts to act very sick.
  • You or someone who has had contact with your child develops headache or neck stiffness.
  • Your child develops headache or neck stiffness.
  • Your child gets a new fever or new rash.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child acts confused.
  • Your child is hard to awaken.

Call within 24 hours if:

  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by the Section of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, The Children's Hospital, Denver.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-12-10
Last reviewed: 2009-12-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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