a doctor explaining bacterial meningitis terms

Bacterial Meningitis: 11 Terms to Know

Bacterial meningitis is the most dangerous form of meningitis since it comes on so quickly and can lead to severe complications. In just a few days without treatment, bacterial meningitis can prove fatal.

In light of the seriousness of this condition, it is important to familiarize yourself with meningitis so you are able to recognize the signs and symptoms as soon as possible. Below are 11 important terms and definitions that relate to the infections causes and transmission:

  1. Meninges – the membranes that surround your brain and spinal cord. This is what becomes inflamed with infection in meningitis cases.
  2. Meningococcal – a type of meningitis that is bacterial. There is also a vaccination for meningitis by this name.
  3. Fontanel – this is the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head. Whenever newborns get meningitis, this spot will often have a bulge.
  4. Pneumococcus – this is a strain of bacterium that is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in infants, young children, and adults in the United States. There is a vaccine to help protect against transmission of this kind of infection.
  5. Listeria – This strain of bacteria is found in soft cheeses, hot dogs, and lunchmeats. Although healthy people generally won’t become ill from being exposed to listeria, it is not uncommon for pregnant women, newborns, elderly adults, and people with weakened immune systems to contract meningitis from this bacterium. Listeria is especially dangerous for pregnant women, as transmission across the placental barrier can occur, causing infections in an unborn baby. If this occurs, the child may be stillborn or die shortly after birth.
  6. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications – these are a class of pain relievers that are unsafe for people with untreated meningitis. If you suspect you might have meningitis and haven’t been able to see the doctor yet, only take acetaminophen to reduce your fever and body aches, as opposed to medications such as aspirin.
  7. Lumbar puncture – otherwise known as a spinal tap, this test is the only definitive way to diagnose meningitis, and it involves analyzing your cerebrospinal fluid. In people with meningitis, the CSF fluid is often lower in sugar, has an increased white blood cell count, and has increased protein.
  8. Polymerase chain reaction amplification – a DNA-based test that can check for antibodies to find the specific cause of your meningitis. This will help determine proper treatment and prognosis.
  9. Mastoids – these are the bones behind your outer ear that connect to your middle ear. Sometimes the mastoids and sinuses become infected during meningitis transmission.
  10. Intravenous antibiotics – Because bacterial meningitis requires such prompt treatment, delivering antibiotics through the vein is usually the fastest way to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications such as brain swelling and seizures.
  11. Unpasteurized milk – cheeses that are made with this kind of milk are more likely to contain certain bacteria (listeria) that can cause meningitis. If you are pregnant, you should pay special attention to soft cheeses that aren’t clearly labeled that they were made with pasteurized milk. 
Last Updated: July 14, 2017