About Meningitis

Key Points

  • Meningitis is inflammation (swelling) of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Many different things can cause meningitis.
  • An accurate diagnosis is important though because treatment depends on the cause.
  • Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency and should be treated as soon as possible.
A woman with a headache

What it is

Meningitis is inflammation (swelling) of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

The World Meningitis Day logo.
World Meningitis Day is October 5.

World Meningitis Day

Each year, World Meningitis Day is observed on October 5. The observance aims to raise awareness about meningitis, its symptoms, and vaccines that can help prevent it.

Learn more about World Meningitis Day.


Common meningitis symptoms include

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck

There are often other symptoms, such as

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)

Symptoms in babies

Newborns and babies may not have, or it may be difficult to notice the classic symptoms listed above. Instead, babies may

  • Be slow or inactive
  • Be irritable
  • Vomit
  • Feed poorly
  • Have a bulging fontanelle (the "soft spot" on a baby's head)
  • Have abnormal reflexes

When to seek emergency care‎

Anyone with symptoms of meningitis should see a healthcare provider right away. A healthcare provider can determine if you have meningitis, what's causing it, and the best treatment.


Many things can cause meningitis:

Bacterial or viral meningitis are more common than the other types of meningitis.

Testing and diagnosis

If healthcare providers suspect meningitis, they may collect samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (fluid surrounding the spinal cord). Then laboratories can perform specific tests, depending on the type of infection suspected. Knowing the specific cause is important because treatment differs depending on the cause.

Myths and misconceptions

Meningitis and meningococcal disease are not the same thing even if the words are similar.

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 illness caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. These illnesses are serious and can but don't always include meningitis.

Keep Reading: Meningococcal Disease