Treating meningitis  

Immediate hospital admission is required in cases of suspected meningitis or septicaemia (blood poisoning).

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).

Antibiotics will be used to treat the underlying infection. These can be given intravenously (through a vein in your arm). At the same time, you may also be given:

  • oxygen
  • intravenous fluids
  • steroids or other medication to help reduce the swelling around your brain

If the antibiotics are effective, you'll need to be in hospital for about a week. However, if you're severely ill, you may need to stay in hospital for several weeks or even months.

Meningococcal disease (either meningitis or septicaemia due to Neissaria meningitidis) can cause some long-term complications. 

Read more about the complications of meningitis.

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis can either be mild or severe. The treatment for both severities is described below.

Mild viral meningitis

Most people with viral meningitis won't 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 take between 5 and 14 days to recover.

Severe viral meningitis

If the symptoms of viral meningitis are severe enough to require hospital admission, antibiotics will be given until the cause of the symptoms is known.

However, once a diagnosis of viral meningitis has been confirmed, the antibiotics will be stopped, as they have no effect on viruses. However, intravenous fluids will be given to help the body recover.

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

Infection control

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

However, if someone is thought to be at high risk of infection, they may be given a dose of antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

This could be, for example, a young child who has been in close contact with another child who has developed bacterial meningitis.

Page last reviewed: 10/06/2014

Next review due: 10/06/2016