meningitis

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges caused by a bacterial or viral infection.  It is very serious and can be deadly.

What bacteria causes meningitis?

The type of bacteria that causes meningitis depends on the age of a person:

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Who is at risk for meningitis?

  • People of any age can get meningitis, but babies are at higher risk.
  • College students, or people in large group settings, are at an increased risk.
  • Certain diseases can put people at risk.
  • Microbiologists that work with bacteria are at higher risk.
  • People that travel frequently to the sub-Saharan desert may be at higher risk.

How does meningitis spread?

Bacterial meningitis is spread through close contact from person-to-person, usually through mucus or saliva secretions (sneezing, coughing, kissing, etc.). However, the bacteria that causes meningitis is not as contagious as bacteria that causes the cold or flu. The bacteria is not spread though casual contact or by breathing in air where a person with meningitis has been. You can get meningitis by eating food contaminated with Listeria. Tell your doctor if you have been exposed to somebody with meningitis.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms usually show between 3 and 7 days of exposure.

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Symptoms such as headaches or stiff neck can be harder to notice in babies. Noticeable symptoms may include:

  • Inactive movement
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Feeding poorly
  • Bulging soft spot
  • Abnormal reflexes

How is meningitis diagnosed?

Blood or spinal cord fluid is sent to the lab to determine if someone has meningitis. It is important for doctors to determine a specific cause to properly treat the disease.

How is meningitis treated?

Bacterial meningitis is treated through antibiotics. You should seek treatment immediately if you have meningitis or believe you may have meningitis.

How can I prevent meningitis?

To prevent getting meningitis, stay away from people who have the disease, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The best way to prevent meningitis is to get the vaccines for 3 of the bacteria that cause meningitis. These bacteria include:

  • Neisseria meningitidis
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

For more information on bacterial meningitis, visit http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html.