Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by various pathogens with the majority being either a bacterial or viral infection of the fluid surrounding these areas.
Bacterial and viral meningitis
600-1,000NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN THE US THAT CONTRACT MENINGITIS EACH YEAR.
10-15THE PERCENT OF PEOPLE WHO DIE FROM MENINGITIS.
21%THE NUMBER OF CASES THAT OCCUR IN PRETEENS, TEENS, AND YOUNG ADULTS AGES 11-24.
Transmission of disease
Bacterial meningitis is transmitted through the direct exchange of respiratory or throat secretions such as coughing, kissing, or sharing unwashed eating/drinking utensils and can cause life-threatening infections that need immediate medical attention.
Viral meningitis spreads in different ways depending of the type of virus causing the disease. While serious, viral meningitis is less severe than bacterial meningitis. See links below for more detailed information.
Symptoms of meningitis include fever greater than 101° F, sudden and severe headache, mental changes and confusion, neck and back stiffness, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, and rash.
The most effective way to protect against certain types of bacterial meningitis is to complete the recommended vaccine schedule. There are vaccines for three types of bacteria that can cause meningitis including, Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
There are no vaccines to protect against non-polio enteroviruses, which are the most common cause of viral meningitis. However there are steps you can take to lower your risk of infection. These include:
- Washing your hands, with soap and water, frequently.
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
Bacterial meningitis can be treated effectively with antibiotics and vaccines exist to prevent some kinds of bacterial meningitis. It is important that treatment be started as soon as possible. Appropriate antibiotic treatment of the most common types of bacterial meningitis should reduce the risk of dying from meningitis to below 15 percent, although the risk remains higher among young infants and the elderly.
In most cases, there is no specific treatment for viral meningitis. Most people who get viral meningitis completely recover on their own within 7 to 10 days. However, people with meningitis caused by certain viruses such as herpes virus and influenza, may benefit from treatment with an antiviral medication.