Meningitis - Treatment 

Treating meningitis  

People with suspected meningitis or septicaemia (blood poisoning) need to be admitted to hospital immediately, wherever they are.

Bacterial meningitis

Someone with bacterial meningitis will require urgent treatment in hospital. If they have severe meningitis, they may need to be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU). 

Read about ICUs for more information on the type of treatment these units provide.

Antibiotics (medication for infections caused by bacteria) will be used to treat the underlying infection. These will be given intravenously (through a vein in your arm).

At the same time you may also be given:

  • oxygen
  • intravenous fluids (through a vein)
  • steroids or other medication to help reduce the inflammation (swelling) around your brain

If the antibiotics work well, you should spend about a week in hospital, or maybe less. But if you are severely ill, you may need to stay in hospital for weeks or even months.

Meningococcal disease (the combination of meningitis and septicaemia) can cause some long-term complications. 

Read more about the complications of meningitis.

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis can either be:

  • severe
  • mild

The treatment for both severe and mild meningitis is described below.

Severe viral meningitis

If the symptoms of viral meningitis are severe enough to require admission to hospital, the condition will be treated in the same way as bacterial meningitis, with antibiotics.

Once a diagnosis of viral meningitis has been confirmed, the antibiotics will be withdrawn. However, intravenous fluids will be continued to support the body as it recovers.

In very severe cases where someone is in hospital with viral meningitis, anti-viral medicines may be given.

Mild viral meningitis

Most people with viral meningitis will not require hospital treatment. Viral meningitis is usually mild and can be treated at home with:

  • plenty of rest
  • painkillers for the headache
  • anti-emetics (anti-sickness) medicine for the vomiting

Most people recover within five to 14 days.

Infection control

Most cases of meningitis are isolated and there is a low risk of the infection spreading.

However, if someone is thought to be particularly at risk of infection, they can be given a dose of antibiotics as a precautionary measure. This could be, for example, a young child who has spent a large amount of time in close contact with another child who has developed bacterial meningitis.

Page last reviewed: 14/06/2012

Next review due: 14/06/2014

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