Most often meningitis is caused by a bacteria or virus. Other causes of meningitis include; parasite and fungal infections, brain injury, cancer and drug or vaccine reactions.
How is meningitis spread?
- Bacterial meningitis is an extremely serious form of the infection. It can be caused by a number of different types of bacteria. It requires treatment and has the potential to cause long term complications such as hearing loss, brain injury, learning disabilities and loss of limbs.
- Viral meningitis may be caused by a wide variety of common viruses. It often is not as serious and illness is less severe. People almost always get better without treatment.
- Other causes of meningitis occur less often, the severity of illness and treatment will depend on the cause.
The way in which meningitis spreads from person to person depends on the germ that is causing the infection.
Both viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis can be spread through direct contact with nose and throat secretions. Healthy persons, who have no signs of illness, can have these bacteria in their nose or throat and spread them to others. Sharing a glass, cup or eating utensil, coughing or sneezing into the face of another person, or sharing a cigarette are examples of how contact with another person’s respiratory secretions might occur.
Viral meningitis can be transmitted by fecal contamination (in addition to respiratory secretions) when an infected person sheds or excretes virus in his/her stool.
Fungal meningitis is not contagious. It is not transmitted from person to person. People at risk for fungal meningitis acquire the infection usually by inhaling fungal spores from the environment. People with certain medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, or HIV are at higher risk of fungal meningitis.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
Meningitis has a very sudden onset, usually with high fever, severe headache, vomiting, confusion, fatigue, seizures, drowsiness, neck stiffness, sensitivity to bright light and a skin rash. Not every person will have all of these symptoms.
Newborns and infants may be irritable and cry constantly, refuse meals, have unusual sleep patterns, have a lower than normal body temperature or bulging of the soft spots on their head.
More to know
- Wash your hands regularly especially after coughing or sneezing and before handling or eating food.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, use a tissue or your sleeve, not your hand.
- Do not share anything that has been in contact with someone else’s saliva such as eating utensils, lipstick, straws and water bottles.
- There are several different vaccines that can help protect you from getting meningitis. Talk to a health care provider about the vaccines that are right for you. Make sure to keep your immunizations up to date.
- If you develop symptoms of meningitis see a health care provider right a way.
- Treatment will depend on what is causing the infection. Determining the cause of meningitis is usually done through blood or spinal fluid testing.
- If a person has had close contact with someone who is infected with bacterial meningitis, antibiotics may be required to prevent the infection.