Meningitis is a disease caused by infection of the fluids in the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
There are five types of meningitis, but the most dangerous and contagious is Bacterial Meningitis which can cause life-threatening infections requiring immediate attention including antibiotics and hospitalization. The infection is spread through close contact with an infected person including sneezing, kissing and close conversation.
Fortunately, there are four vaccines to prevent bacterial meningitis: pneumococcal, HiB, meningococcal (A, C, Y, and W-135) and meningococcal type B vaccines. Completing the recommended vaccine schedule is the most effective way of protecting you and your child.
Symptoms start with a fever and pain up the back of the neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and mental confusion.
In infants younger than one year symptoms are difficult to pinpoint. Watch for:
- Listlessness and sleeping all the time
- Refusing a bottle
- Crying when picked up or being held
- Can’t be comforted while crying
- Bulging fontanel (soft spot on an infant’s head)
- Behavior changes
Viral Meningitis is serious but less severe than bacterial. Those with normal immune systems can generally be treated at home and the illness will resolve itself. If you come into close contact with someone who is infected, you may become infected with the virus that made them sick, but are unlikely to develop Meningitis as a complication of that illness.
Fungal Meningitis is caused by inhaling fungal spores from the environment. This type is not contagious, but people with diabetes, cancer or HIV are at higher risk.
This type of Meningitis is less common in developed countries but is spread through contaminated food, water and soil.
Non-infectious Meningitis is not spread from person to person but instead some cancers, lupus, certain drugs, head injury or brain surgery can all cause this type of meningitis. .