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Facts About...


What is it?

Meningitis is an infection of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Bacterial meningitis is a rare but serious infection.

Streptococcus pneumonia and Neisseria meningiditis, are two kinds of bacteria that can cause meningitis. Haemophilis influenza b is a common cause of bacterial meningitis but has largely been eliminated in many countries due to immunization programs. Viral meningitis is usually less severe than bacterial meningitis. Enteroviruses are the most common group of viruses causing meningitis.

How is it spread?

Bacterial meningitis doesn’t spread very easily from person to person. The bacteria are spread person to person through contact with fluids from the nose or throat of someone who has the infection. Viral meningitis can be spread through respiratory secretions or stool of someone who has the infection.

What do I look for?

Symptoms of viral and bacterial meningitis are often the same. Symptoms develop suddenly and can include: high fever, severe headache, vomiting, confusion, stiff neck, rash, sensitivity to light, drowsiness. Newborns and infants may not have all the classic symptoms, they may be irritable, refuse meals, and have unusual sleep patterns and constant crying.

How is it treated?

Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics. If infected, a person is considered non-infectious after 24-48 hours of antibiotic treatment. The Health Department notifies close contacts to provide education and recommendations if required.

There is no specific treatment for viral meningitis. Antibiotics are not useful in treating viral meningitis.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer when hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow and encourage others to do the same.
  • Do not share water bottles, straws, eating utensils, musical instruments, cigarettes, toothbrushes, toys, or anything that has been in contact with saliva, nose or throat secretions.
  • Wash your hands after handling nose and throat discharges (i.e., after disposal of facial tissues containing nose and throat discharges).
  • Keep up to date with immunizations and speak to your doctor/health care provider about your need for other vaccines.
  • See Facts About... Meningitis vaccines
  • See Facts About.... Pneumococcal Disease and Pneumococcal vaccines
  • See Facts About... Haemophilus influenza B Disease and related vaccines
  • If you are ill stay at home and isolate yourself from others.

October 6, 2014