Determining if a patient has meningitis requires a test of the spinal fluid, which a doctor obtains by performing a spinal tap. The test determines if the cause of meningitis is viral or bacterial. Only a medical care provider can determine if a patient has meningitis, according to MedlinePlus. Patients who suspect they have the disease should go to a hospital emergency department immediately.
Symptoms of meningitis include a stiff neck, rapid heartbeat, fever and changes in mental state, reports MedlinePlus. If the doctor believes the symptoms are consistent with meningitis, he orders the spinal tap. Doctors sometimes order blood tests, a chest X-ray and a computerized tomography scan of the head.
The underlying cause of meningitis determines the proper treatment. Viral meningitis is more common but does not respond to antibiotics. The immune system of most patients with the viral form of the disease fights it off in about seven to 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control. With bacterial meningitis, antibiotics are an important part of the treatment plan.
While there are no vaccines to prevent the most common form of meningitis, vaccinating a child on schedule prevents some diseases that lead to viral meningitis, notes the CDC. Proper handwashing also reduces the chance of infection with viral meningitis.