Meningitis is an
inflammation of the covering of the brain and spinal cord---also called the
meninges. It can be caused by
viruses, parasites, fungi, and bacteria. Viral
(aseptic) meningitis is common; most people recover fully.
Medical management of viral meningitis consists of supportive treatment
and there is usually no indication for the use of antibiotics.
Parasitic and fungal meningitis are very rare.
Bacterial meningitis is very serious and may involve complicated medical,
surgical, pharmaceutical, and life support management.
There are two common types of bacteria that cause
Strep pneumoniae causes pneumococcal
meningitis; there are over 80 subtypes that cause illness
What are the
meningitis will become very ill. The illness may develop over one or two days,
but it can also rapidly progress in a matter of hours.
Not everyone with meningitis will have the same symptoms.
Children (over 1 year old) and adults with meningitis
Sensitivity to bright lights
Neck stiffness, joint pains
children and adults, there may be a rash of tiny, red-purple spots or bruises
caused by bleeding under the skin. These can occur anywhere on the body. They
are a sign of blood poisoning (septicemia), which sometimes happens with
meningitis, particularly the meningococcal strain.
How serious is
If it is diagnosed
early and treated promptly, the majority of people make a complete recovery.
In some cases it can be fatal or a person may be left with a permanent
disability, such as deafness, blindness, amputations or brain damage (resulting
in mental retardation or paralysis) even with prompt treatment.
bacterial meningitis spread?
of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as diseases like the
common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply
breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.
The germs live naturally in the back of our noses and throats, but they
do not live for long outside the body. They
are spread when people exchange saliva (such as by kissing; sharing drinking
containers, utensils, or cigarettes).
The germ does
not cause meningitis in most people. Instead,
most people become carriers of the germ for days, weeks or even months.
Being a carrier helps to stimulate your body's natural defense system.
rarely overcomes the body's immune system and causes meningitis or another
What is the
risk of getting bacterial meningitis?
The risk of
getting bacterial meningitis in all age groups is about 2.4 cases per 100,000
population per year. However, the
highest risk group for the most serious form of the disease, meningococcal
meningitis, is highest among children 2 to 18 years old.
How is bacterial meningitis diagnosed?
The diagnosis is
usually based on a combination of clinical symptoms and laboratory results from
spinal fluid and blood. Spinal
fluid is obtained by a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
How can bacterial meningitis be prevented?
Do not share food, drinks, utensils, toothbrushes, or cigarettes. Limit the number of persons you kiss.
pneumococcal disease are recommended both for young children and adults over 64.
A vaccine against four meningococcal serogroups (A, C, Y, W-135) is
available. These four groups cause
the majority of meningococcal cases in the United States.
This vaccine is recommended by some groups for college students,
particularly freshmen living in dorms or residence halls.
The vaccine is safe and effective (85-90%).
It can cause mild side effects, such as redness and pain at the injection
site lasting up to two days. Immunity
develops within 7 to 10 days after the vaccine is given and lasts for up to 5
What you should
do if you think you or a friend might have bacterial meningitis?
Your school nurse, family doctor, and the staff at your
local or regional health department office are excellent sources for information
on all communicable diseases. You
may also call your local health department or Regional Texas Department of
Health office to ask about meningococcal vaccine.
Additional information may also be found at the web sites for the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov
and the Texas Department of Health: www.tdh.state.tx.us.