What are Meningitis and Encephalitis?
Meningitis and encephalitis are inflammatory diseases
of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord and are caused by
bacterial or viral infections. Viral meningitis is sometimes called aseptic
meningitis to indicate it is not the result of bacterial infection and cannot be
treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of encephalitis include sudden fever,
headache, vomiting, heightened sensitivity to light, stiff neck and back,
confusion and impaired judgment, drowsiness, weak muscles, a clumsy and unsteady
gait, and irritability. Symptoms that might require emergency treatment include
loss of consciousness, seizures, muscle weakness, or sudden severe dementia.
Symptoms of meningitis, which may appear suddenly,
often include high fever, severe and persistent headache, stiff neck, nausea,
and vomiting. Changes in behavior such as confusion, sleepiness, and difficulty
waking up may also occur. In infants, symptoms of meningitis may include
irritability or fatigue, lack of appetite, and fever. Viral meningitis usually
resolves in 10 days or less, but other types of meningitis can be deadly if not
treated promptly. Anyone experiencing symptoms of meningitis or encephalitis
should see a doctor immediately.
Is there any treatment?
Antiviral medications may be prescribed for herpes
encephalitis or other severe viral infections. Antibiotics may be prescribed for
bacterial infections. Anticonvulsants are used to prevent or treat seizures.
Corticosteroids are used to reduce brain swelling and inflammation. Sedatives
may be needed for irritability or restlessness. Over-the-counter medications may
be used for fever and headache. Individuals with encephalitis or bacterial
meningitis are usually hospitalized for treatment.
What is the prognosis?
The prognosis for encephalitis varies. Some cases are
mild, short and relatively benign and individuals have full recovery. Other
cases are severe, and permanent impairment or death is possible. The acute phase
of encephalitis may last for 1 to 2 weeks, with gradual or sudden resolution of
fever and neurological symptoms. Neurological symptoms may require many months
before full recovery. With early diagnosis and prompt treatment, most
individuals recover from meningitis. However, in some cases, the disease
progresses so rapidly that death occurs during the first 48 hours, despite early
What research is being done?
The NINDS supports and conducts research on infections
and diseases of the brain and nervous system including encephalitis and
meningitis. Much of this research is aimed at learning more about the cause(s),
prevention, and treatment of these disorders.
Meningitis Foundation of America, Inc.
P.O. Box 1818
El Mirage, AZ 85335
National Meningitis Association
738 Robinson Farms Drive
Marietta, GA 30068
Tel: 866.FONE.NMA (366.3662)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6610 Rockledge Drive, MSC 6612
Bethesda, MD 20892-6612
Source: National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/16/2011...#6058