What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is defined as an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.1 It's caused when the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges become infected.1,2 There are actually several types of meningitis but bacterial and viral meningitis are the 2 most common.2

What is the difference between bacterial and viral meningitis?

Image: What is the difference between bacterial and viral meningitis?

Meningococcal Meningitis and Meningococcal Sepsis

Meningococcal meningitis occurs when bacteria called meningococci infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord.3,4 When these same bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can cause another serious condition known as meningococcal sepsis.3,5

Learn about the symptoms of meningitis

Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease, which includes meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal sepsis, is defined as any infection that’s caused by the bacteria meningococci.1,3 Although rare, it’s very serious and potentially life-threatening.1,3 It can potentially kill an otherwise healthy young person within 1 day after the first symptoms appear.6

Meningococcal disease can be difficult to recognize, especially in its early stages because meningitis symptoms are similar to those of more common viral illnesses.1

About 1 in 5 people who survive meningococcal meningitis can suffer permanent consequences, such as3-10:

How to talk to your teen about meningitis

  • Amputation of limbs, fingers, or toes
  • Severe scarring
  • Brain damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney damage

Who's at Risk for Meningococcal Meningitis?

Teens and young adults are at increased risk. But anyone can get meningitis, even people who are usually healthy, such as athletes or college students.1,3

Learn how to help protect teens and young adults from meningitis

Is Meningitis Contagious?

  • Yes, the bacteria that cause it can be spread
    through the exchange of saliva, which can
    occur during common activities, such as3,10:

    Image: Meningitis can be spread by kissing
    Kissing
    Image: Meningitis can be spread by sharing utensils and drinking glasses
    Sharing utensils
    & drinking glasses
  • Risk factors for meningococcal meningitis include3,11,12:

    Image: Living in close quarters (ie, dormitories) can be a risk factor for Meningitis
    Living in close quarters
    (ie, dormitories)
    Image: Smoking or being exposed to smoke can be a risk factor for Meningitis
    Smoking or being
    exposed to smoke

Lifestyle may also play a part. For example, staying out late and irregular sleeping habits can make teens feel run down and might also put them at greater risk for meningitis by weakening their immune system.13

What are the risks for meningitis?

What Can I Do?

Get your teen vaccinated. Because you can’t watch your teen every minute of every day, your best option is to talk to your child’s school nurse or other health care provider about the importance of vaccination.

Learn when to vaccinate your child

If you ever suspect that your child has meningitis, go to the emergency room right away, where he or she can be evaluated and receive prompt medical care.1,14,15

Next: Meningitis Symptoms

Related Links

References

  1. Tunkel AR, van de Beek D, Scheld MW. Acute meningitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2010:1189-1229.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Meningitis. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html. 2014. Accessed August 28, 2014.
  3. Atkinson W, Wolfe S, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, eds. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 12th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation; 2011.
  4. National Meningitis Association (NMA). Is it viral, bacterial or fungal? http://www.nmaus.org/disease-prevention-information/is-it-viral-bacterial-or-fungal/. Accessed August 28, 2014.
  5. CDC. Meningococcal – Signs and Symptoms. http://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/symptoms.html. 2014. Accessed August 28, 2014.
  6. World Health Organization (WHO). Meningococcal Meningitis. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs141/en/. Accessed August 28, 2014.
  7. Borg J, Christie D, Coen PG, Booy R, Viner RM. Outcomes of meningococcal disease in adolescence: prospective, matched-cohort study. Pediatrics. 2009;123(3):e502-e509.
  8. Erickson LJ, De Wals P, McMahon J, Heim S. Complications of meningococcal disease in college students. Clin Infect Dis. 2001;33(5):737-739.
  9. Erickson L, De Wals P. Complications and sequelae of meningococcal disease in Quebec, Canada, 1990-1994. Clin Infect Dis. 1998;26(5):1159-1164.
  10. Apicella MA. Neisseria meningitidis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2010:2737-2752.
  11. Bruce MG, Rosenstein NE, Capparella JM, Shutt KA, Perkins BA, Collins M. Risk factors for meningococcal disease in college students. JAMA. 2001;286(6):688-693.
  12. MacLennan J, Kafatos G, Neal K, et al; United Kingdom Meningococcal Carriage Group. Social behavior and meningococcal carriage in British teenagers. Emerg Infect Dis. 2006;12(6):950-957.
  13. Imeri L, Opp MR. How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009;10(3):199-210.
  14. CDC. Bacterial Meningitis. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html. 2014. Accessed August 28, 2014.
  15. Stephens DS, Greenwood B, Brandtzaeg P. Epidemic meningitis, meningococcaemia, and Neisseria meningitidis. Lancet. 2007;369(9580):2196-2210.