What is Meningitis?

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), meningitis is an infection of the fluid of a person's spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. It is sometimes called spinal meningitis.

What Causes Meningitis?

Meningitis is contracted by either a bacterial or a viral infection. It is vital to discover which kind of infection a person's meningitis stems from because the acuteness and treatment of it fluctuate according to its cause.


Viral meningitis is less critical and usually settles itself over time, while bacterial meningitis is far more acute and usually requires focused treatment. If left unchecked, bacterial meningitis can cause hearing loss, brain damage and/or learning disability. It is now common practice to discover what kind of bacteria is the cause of the infection, due to the fact that certain antibiotics can prevent that bacterium from spreading further infection. Since 1990, routine child immunizations have included blocking agents for certain bacteria, causing the number of children who get infected by that particular type of meningitis to drop drastically. Still, meningitis is continues to be a health threat, due to new bacteria cropping up every day.

What Are Meningitis Symptoms?

From the age of 2 years and on, the usual symptoms of meningitis are high fever, headache and a stiff neck. Sometimes the symptoms develop in the space of several hours, or they may take one to two days. Other possible symptoms are nausea, vomiting, aversion to bright lights, confusion and drowsiness. In infants younger than 2 years, the standard symptoms may be impossible or difficult to distinguish, and the child may only appear sluggish or motionless, or may seem ill-tempered, may have been vomiting or may show a loss of appetite. Seizures may occur at a later stage in any age if treatment is not sought.

Treatment of Meningitis

Early diagnosis and treatment of meningitis is vital to recovery. Once symptoms appear, a doctor and treatment should be sought immediately. Usually, meningitis is diagnosed by removing a sample of spinal fluid from the lower back of the child, a process called a spinal tap, and then growing bacteria from the acquired sample. Once again, discovering the type of bacterium that has caused the infection is vital to selecting the right antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent a reccurrence. The earlier the child is diagnosed, the better the chance of a full recovery. Correct antibiotic treatment reduces the chance of death from common bacterial meningitis to below 15 percent in children.

Is Meningitis Contagious?

Some types of meningitis are contagious. Common bacteria can be spread through respiratory emissions such as coughing, kissing or sneezing, but luckily, the bacteria that cause meningitis are never as communicable as the ordinary cold, and are not distributed by a careless touch or simple inhalation of the air where a person infected with meningitis has strayed.

That is not to say that contact with someone with meningitis cannot spread the disease. It is extended contact that usually causes the spread of the disease. A family member, other children in a daycare center, or usually anyone who is privy to the bodily emissions of the patient is in danger of contamination. Anyone in close contact with the patient qualifies to receive antibiotics to prevent the further infection of the disease, although in such cases, antibiotics are no longer suggested if vaccinations are present in children 4 years or younger.

Prevention of further infection is all about being mindful of all symptoms of illness in your child, seeking treatment as soon as possible if you suspect meningitis is present and treating all close contacts as potential infection bearers.

Are There Vaccines for Meningitis?

Nowadays, vaccines for some strains of bacterial meningitis are fairly common. They are very harmless and studies show them to be highly successful. In addition, there is a vaccine that fights four different strains of the disease, but it has yet to be commonly administered in the U.S. All meningitis cases should be reported to the local health department to ensure close attention to the strains of bacteria that frequent the infection cases. Abroad travelers should also research to see if a vaccine is suggested for their trip. You can find out more by calling the CDC at 404-332-4565. Check with your child's doctor to see which vaccine is recommended for your child's age group.

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