Q+A: What's the Difference Between Viral and Bacterial Meningitis?

Find out about the differences between these types of meningitis and more here.

Q. I keep hearing about babies getting meningitis. What's the difference between viral and bacterial meningitis -- and which is worse?

A. Viral meningitis is the more common and less serious form -- it usually clears up on its own in seven to 10 days. Bacterial meningitis is much more dangerous and can be fatal if not treated quickly with antibiotics. Most cases are caused by three different types of bacteria. The pneumococcal conjugate and Hib vaccines, both given to infants, protect against two of them. But there isn't a vaccine for kids under 2 that guards against the third type, and the current vaccine is only recommended for 11- to 18-year-olds and kids at increased risk of disease. Though babies with meningitis may not always have the classic symptoms -- high fever, severe headache, vomiting, and stiff neck -- they tend to cry uncontrollably, refuse to eat, or be inactive. If your doctor suspects your child has meningitis, she may test the spinal-cord fluid to determine which type it is.

Source: Amanda Cohn, MD, a pediatrician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the June 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

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