Testing for Meningitis:

The simple test to check the rashes is the tumbler test. A clear glass is pressed against the rash. If the red/purple spots do not disappear then diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis is likely. At this stage if the patient hasn’t visited the doctor already, immediate referral is recommended for further testing.


Tumbler Test: Rash is still red/purple when pressure is applied
Image9. "Tumbler test" to check rashes

Along with the simple "tumbler test", more detailed tests can be carried out in the hospital, which can confirm and identify the type meningitis and the organism that has caused it.

Lumbar puncture: The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by the clear cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). To collect the a sample of the CSF, a small injection of local anaesthetic is given to numb a patch of skin over the lower end of the spine (the lumbar area) and a needle inserted between two vertebrae (spinal bones) into the space containing the CSF.

Lumbar puncture
Image10. Lumbar puncture (Spinal tap)


The CSF pressure can be measured and CSF sample can be taken and sent for tests.
In meningitis the CSF will appear cloudy rather than crystal clear. The laboratory can usually have the results of these tests in a few hours. Other specialised tests for bacteria and viruses may take a few days.

CT Scan: A CT (computerised tomography) brain scan is a special type of x-ray which gives clear images of the brain. Sometimes a dye is injected into a vein in the arm which will help highlight inflammation of the meninges.

MRI scan: An MRI scan is a scanning procedure that pictures of the brain that are clearer a CT scan. The pictures are made by changes in a strong magnetic field rather than x-rays. MRI scanning is more likely to show any breakdown in the blood-brain barrier at an earlier stage than a CT scan. A dye (or contrast agent) may be used to give more information. The scan is painless but takes longer than a CT scan and the quality of the pictures can be affected by movement. The machine makes quite a loud knocking sound while it is in operation.

Other tests:

  • Blood tests can show of the infection has reached the blood (septicaemia) and also can be used to identify the organism responsible.
  • White Blood cell (WBC) count - because bacterial meningitis is commonly found with septicaemia, there will often be a raised level of WBC in the blood.
  • Throat and nose swabs, and feaces samples may be sent to a laboratory  to be checked for viruses and bacteria.
  • Chest X-Rays can be taken to show pneumonia or changes which can suggest TB.

  • What is meningitis?
    Signs and symptoms
    Viral meningitis & Causes
    Viral meningtis prevention & treatment
    Bacterial meningitis & Causes
    Bacterial meningitis prevention & treatment
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