Bacterial Meningitis

What is bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial Meningitis is usually a severe type of infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord that can be caused by different germs. Though most people with meningitis recover, it can cause complications such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities.

Learn more about one type of meningitis recently reported: Meningococcal Meningitis.

Who is at risk?

People of any age group are at risk. However, there are factors that can increase risk of bacterial meningitis. Newborns, infants and children are at a higher risk for bacterial meningitis than people in other age groups. Larger groups of people like students living in college residence halls tend to spread infectious diseases more quickly.

How is bacterial meningitis spread?

Some of the germs that can cause bacterial meningitis are contagious.  However, most of the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as the cold or flu and are not spread by casual contact or breathing where an infected person has been.

Some bacteria can be spread by exchanging saliva or mucus, such as kissing.  Close or long contact with a sick person in the same household or daycare center may spread meningitis to other people.

Other meningitis-causing bacteria are not spread person-to-person but can cause disease in people with weak immune systems or head trauma. One bacteria that causes meningitis may be spread through contaminated food.

Tell your doctor if you think you have been exposed to someone with meningitis.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can appear quickly or over several days and typically are sudden fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms that can result are nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and confusion.

In newborns and infants, meningitis symptoms of fever, headache and neck stiffness may be difficult to notice. The infant may be slow or lack alertness, irritable, vomiting or feeding poorly. If you think your infant has any of these symptoms, call the doctor or clinic right away.

Later signs of bacterial meningitis can be severe and people who are infected may experience seizures or coma. If you suspect you have meningitis, see a doctor as soon as you can.

How is it diagnosed?

Samples of blood or spinal fluid are collected and sent to the laboratory. Testing can identify the specific bacteria causing meningitis, which helps doctors decide how best to effectively treat the infection.

How is bacterial meningitis treated?

Bacterial meningitis can be treated effectively with antibiotics. Appropriate antibiotic treatment that is started early greatly reduces the risk of dying, though the risk remains higher among infants and the elderly.

How can I prevent meningitis?

The best way to protect yourself and your child of bacterial meningitis is to complete the recommended vaccine schedule.


Centers for Disease Control