Information for Patients
Bacteria are living things that have only one cell. Under a microscope, they look like balls, rods, or spirals. They are so small that a line of 1,000 could fit across a pencil eraser. Most bacteria won't hurt you - less than 1 percent of the different types make people sick. Many are helpful. Some bacteria help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and give the body needed vitamins. Bacteria are also used in making healthy foods like yogurt and cheese.
But infectious bacteria can make you ill. They reproduce quickly in your body. Many give off chemicals called toxins, which can damage tissue and make you sick. Examples of bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment. When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. Each time you take antibiotics, you increase the chances that bacteria in your body will learn to resist them causing antibiotic resistance. Later, you could get or spread an infection that those antibiotics cannot cure.
Meningitis is inflammation of the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. There are several types of meningitis. The most common is viral meningitis. You get it when a virus enters the body through the nose or mouth and travels to the brain. Bacterial meningitis is rare, but can be deadly. It usually starts with bacteria that cause a cold-like infection. It can cause stroke, hearing loss, and brain damage. It can also harm other organs. Pneumococcal infections and meningococcal infections are the most common causes of bacterial meningitis.
Anyone can get meningitis, but it is more common in people with weak immune systems. Meningitis can get serious very quickly. You should get medical care right away if you have
- A sudden high fever
- A severe headache
- A stiff neck
- Nausea or vomiting
Early treatment can help prevent serious problems, including death. Tests to diagnose meningitis include blood tests, imaging tests, and a spinal tap to test cerebrospinal fluid. Antibiotics can treat bacterial meningitis. Antiviral medicines may help some types of viral meningitis. Other medicines can help treat symptoms.
There are vaccines to prevent some of the bacterial infections that cause meningitis.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke