What is meningitis?

Meningitis, aka spinal meningitis, is an inflammation of the meninges — the system of membranes that surround and protect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Infection by a virus, bacteria or fungi causes the meninges to become inflamed, triggering the important “red flag” signs and symptoms which are associated with meningitis.

Boy with meningitis

Bacterial vs. Viral meningitis

It’s very important for doctors to identify whether the infection is viral or bacterial; they can determine this only through analysis of the spinal fluid. Most cases of meningitis are caused by a viral infection, which is serious but only rarely fatal in people with normal immune systems.

Bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, is much more severe. It often results in brain damage, hearing loss, long-term learning disabilities or death. Early diagnosis of bacterial meningitis is key, because it progresses so rapidly and can cause such significant damage in a matter of hours. A patient experiencing the symptoms of bacterial meningitis should seek medical advice immediately.

who gets meningitis?

Meningitis doesn’t discriminate; anyone of any age can contract this infection. Particularly vulnerable are pre-teens and adolescents; people who live in dorms, prisons and other community settings; and people who travel to countries where meningitis is widespread. Additionally, people who are pregnant, are immuno-compromised or work with domestic animals are at higher risk of contracting meningitis.


Following the recommended meningitis vaccination schedule is crucial for children and other groups at high risk.

Complications of meningitis can be very severe. If you think that you or someone you know may be infected, it’s crucial to get to a doctor or hospital right away. The longer the disease goes untreated, the greater risk of permanent neurological damage. Meningitis is often life threatening, so remember: Vaccination and early detection are key.

More on Meningitis

The symptoms of meningitis
Bacterial vs. viral meningitis
Teens & meningitis


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