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Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. This inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, but can be a result of injury, cancer, or certain drugs.

It is important to know the specific cause of meningitis because the treatment differs depending on the cause.

How it Spreads

Doctor with patient.
Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if living in the same household.

Viral Meningitis

If you have close contact with a person who has viral meningitis, you may become infected with the virus that made the person sick. However, you are probably not likely to develop meningitis from the illness. That’s because only a small number of people who get infected with the viruses that cause meningitis will actually develop meningitis.

Meningitis Versus Meningococcal Disease:
There IS a Difference

Sick boy

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. Meningococcal meningitis and septicemia are two common and serious infections caused by these bacteria. More about meningococcal disease...

Resources for Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare resources

Clinical disease information, as well as vaccine recommendations and vaccination resources, for common causes of meningitis.


Meningitis Podcast

Meningitis Podcast

This podcast gives a general overview of meningitis, including what it is, the five types, and the causes. Listen to the podcast.