Spinal Meningitis


Spinal meningitis is an infection of the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Once infection starts, it can spread rapidly through the body.

Without treatment it can cause brain damage in a matter of hours and can be fatal within 24 hours.


In adults, symptoms include:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Joint aches and pain
  • Muscle spasm
  • Pain that radiates from the spine
  • Seizures
  • Stiff neck and back
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

In children, symptoms may include:

  • A blank, staring expression
  • A dislike of being touched or handled
  • A high-pitched, moaning cry
  • Arching back
  • Fever with cold hands and feet
  • Fretfulness
  • Lethargy or difficulty waking up
  • Pale, blotchy skin color
  • Refusal to eat
  • Vomiting
  • Whimpering

When a child is affected, he or she may refuse to stand or sit because it hurts.

Causes and Risk Factors

Bacteria or a virus usually cause this condition. The infection occurs 10 days to two weeks before the symptoms appear.


If bacteria are the cause, examining spinal fluid under a microscope can confirm it. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated the better the outcome.


This disease needs emergency treatment in a hospital. Treatment includes intravenous or oral antibiotics with bed rest.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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