Bacterial Meningitis: Care Instructions

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Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. This serious infection can injure the brain. It can cause death.

Symptoms usually develop suddenly. They start with a fever and a stiff neck but quickly get worse. The infection may involve many different parts of the body. You will be in the hospital for testing and treatment.

How long it takes you to get better depends on how bad the illness is. It can take from just a couple of weeks to many months. You may have changes in how you think or concentrate. Most people with these symptoms get better over time. Be patient. Follow your doctor's instructions.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) for pain or fever. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Be sure that anyone who has come into close contact with you during this illness calls a doctor if they feel sick.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have a seizure.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your symptoms come back or get worse. These may include:
    • A fever.
    • A severe headache.
    • A stiff neck.
    • Nausea and vomiting.
  • You become confused or disoriented.
  • You have trouble thinking or concentrating.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.