Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but meningitis can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs.
The severity of illness and the treatment for meningitis differ depending on the cause. Thus, it is important to know the specific cause of meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis is contagious. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (i.e., by kissing).
If you have close contact with a person who has viral meningitis, you may become infected with the virus that made that person sick. However, you are not likely to develop meningitis as a complication of the illness.
Outbreak in Chicago
Meningitis Versus Meningococcal Disease:
There IS a Difference
Having meningitis doesn't always mean you have meningococcal disease. And having meningococcal disease doesn’t necessarily mean you have meningitis. Meningococcal disease is any infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, or meningococcus. Any infection caused by that bacteria is known as meningococcal disease. One serious infection it can cause is meningococcal meningitis. More about meningococcal disease...
Resources for Healthcare Professionals
Clinical disease information, as well as vaccine recommendations and vaccination resources, for common causes of meningitis.
- Page last reviewed: April 1, 2014
- Page last updated: June 19, 2015
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