What is Bacterial Meningitis?
- Meningococcal disease is a sudden illness caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis. This bacterium infects the bloodstream (meningococcemia) or the meninges, a thin lining covering the brain and spinal cord (meningococcal meningitis).
- Bacterial meningitis is very serious and can be deadly
- Death can occur in as little as a few hours. Most people recover from meningitis
- However, permanent disabilities (such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities) can result from the infection
Certain people are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis. Some risk factors include:
- Babies are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis compared to people in other age groups. However, people of any age can develop bacterial meningitis. See section above for which bacteria more commonly affect which age groups.
- Community setting
- Infectious diseases tend to spread where large groups of people gather together. College campuses have reported outbreaks of meningococcal disease, caused by N. meningitidis.
- Certain medical conditions
- There are certain medical conditions, medications, and surgical procedures that put people at increased risk for meningitis.
- Working with meningitis-causing pathogens
- Microbiologists routinely exposed to meningitis-causing bacteria are at increased risk for meningitis.
- TravelTravelers may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease, caused by N. meningitidis, if they travel to certain places, such as:
- The meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly during the dry season
- Mecca during the annual Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage
How is Bacterial Meningitis spread?
This organism is spread by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of a carrier or ill person. Transmission can occur by sharing saliva via eating utensils, glassware, cigarettes, toothbrushes or kisses, and when people sleep near each other or share a household.
Meningitis symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. There are often other symptoms, such as
- Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)
- Altered mental status (confusion)
In newborns and babies, the meningitis symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to notice. The baby may be irritable, vomit, feed poorly, or appear to be slow or inactive. In young babies, doctors may also look for a bulging fontanelle (soft spot on infant’s head) or abnormal reflexes. If you think your baby or child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.
Symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3 to 7 days after exposure.
Meningococcal disease is treated with injected or intravenous antibiotics. Oral antibiotics like rifampin are given to reduce the number of meningococcal bacteria in the nose and throat. These antibiotics are also given to close contacts of persons with meningococcal disease.
The most effective way to protect you and your child against certain types of bacterial meningitis is to get vaccinated. There are several vaccines that protect against the types of N.meningitidis most common in the United States.
- Menomune (to be discontinued in 2017)
The vaccines provide protection against types A, C, W and Y. MenHibrix provides protection against types C and Y. There are two new vaccines, Bexsero and Trumenba, that have been recently approved for type B. Vaccination is recommended for children and adolescents 11 – 18 years of age, college freshmen and military recruits living in congregate settings, those traveling to parts of Africa where meningococcal disease is common, and those who do not have a spleen or who have complement deficiencies, such as systemic lupus erythematous (SLE).
Make sure you and your child are vaccinated on schedule.