What is meningitis?

Great question. It's an infection of the meninges -- the membrane that lines the brain -- and the fluid that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. It can be caused by either a virus or bacterial. Viral meningitis is usually less severe and typically resolves itself without specific treatment. Bacterial meningitis, though treatable with antibiotics, is often more severe and can result in complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, and death.

Knowing what it is, what the symptoms are, and what to do are all important to ensuring we prevent the contraction and spread of meningitis. We've answered some commonly asked questions specific to meningitis.

Is meningitis contagious?

Some forms of meningitis are contagious and can be spread from person to person through close contact with the oral or nasal secretions of a person infected with meningitis. Because meningitis can also be spread through air droplets (coughing, sneezing, etc.), it is a particular concern on college campuses where students live in close proximity to many other students. Cases of meningitis may occur in clusters. Since this can be a very dangerous disease, meningitis is to be reported to the local health department as soon as possible.

What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms of meningitis might include:
  • Sluggishness, muscle aches or weakness
  • High fever
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness