Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, most often from bacteria or viruses.
The severity of illness and the treatment for meningitis differ depending on the cause. Thus, it is important to know the specific cause of meningitis. For example, bacterial meningitis is usually more severe than viral, fungal, or parasitic meningitis. Although it can be very serious, bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics that can prevent severe illness and reduce the spread of infection from person to person.
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- Sleepiness or trouble waking up
- Altered mental status
Anyone who has these symptoms should see a doctor immediately.
Both viral and bacterial meningitis are contagious, but the method of transmission is different.
- Bacterial meningitis is spread through close contact such as coughing, sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils, or kissing someone who is infected.
- Viral meningitis is most often spread from person to person through fecal contamination which may occur when hands are not adequately washed after using the bathroom or changing a baby’s diaper.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause serious disease and vaccines have been developed to help protect against it. It is recommended that all adolescents between the age of 11 to 12 years of age be vaccinated with MCV4 (meningococal conjugate vaccine). A booster dose of vaccine should be given at age 16.