Meningitis - What Happens
The course of
meningitis often depends on your age, general health,
and the organism causing the infection. The illness can range from mild to
Viral meningitis is more common in the late summer and
early fall. It usually does not cause serious illness. But it is important to
see your doctor if symptoms of meningitis develop so that he or she can rule
out bacterial meningitis, which is more serious. With mild cases of viral
meningitis, you may need only home treatment and can recover within 2 weeks.
But some people may feel light-headed and tired for several months after the
Bacterial meningitis occurs most often from late winter
to early spring. It usually causes serious illness and can be life-threatening.
The symptoms of bacterial meningitis usually develop suddenly and last for 2 to
3 weeks. A person with bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics in a
Complications during illness and
long-term complications are more common with bacterial
than with viral meningitis. Newborns and young children with bacterial
meningitis, people with
impaired immune systems, and older adults with
long-term medical conditions are more likely than others to develop immediate
and/or long-term complications of meningitis.
People who have
bacterial meningitis run the risk of death if they are not treated promptly.
Newborns, children younger than 2, older adults, or people with weakened immune
systems are at a greater risk of death than other people.
likelihood of death from bacterial meningitis in adults is highest in those who
are older than 50, have seizures during the first 24 hours of illness, delay
getting treatment, are in a coma when admitted to the hospital, are in shock,
or cannot breathe without help from a machine.2 Most
survivors recover completely.4
Meningitis caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae is more likely to cause death than meningitis caused by other
bacteria.2 Getting the
pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)(What is a PDF document?) usually protects people from diseases
(including meningitis) caused by most strains of the bacteria.