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Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. There are two main types of the disease: viral meningitis, which can be caused by a number of different viruses, and bacterial meningitis, which results from a bacterial infection. The bacterial form is significantly more serious and can be fatal if untreated.

Symptoms of meningitis include a headache, fever, and stiff neck, and can potentially result in complications such as seizures or loss of consciousness. 

Early and accurate diagnosis is important so that an appropriate treatment course can be started as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get meningitis?

    Certain viruses, such as enteroviruses, influenza, and measles, can result in meningitis. Less commonly, a bacterial infection is a cause. The disease(s) are spread by respiratory secretions via sneezing, coughing, and kissing, but this rarely results in meningitis.

  • Is meningitis contagious?

    Infections that cause meningitis are contagious and typically spread by fluids that contain the infectious organisms. Sneezing, coughing, kissing, or even touching contaminated objects can spread the infection, but rarely result in meningitis.

  • What is the first sign of meningitis?

    Meningitis initially appears as a flu-like illness, with fever, headache, and sometimes a stiff neck. In the case of bacterial meningitis, the disease can become serious and even life-threatening in a matter of hours.

  • What are the meninges?

    The meninges are composed of three layers of connective tissue—the pia, the arachnoid, and the dura layers—that protect the brain and the cerebrospinal fluid that flows around the brain. Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges that is usually caused by an infection.

Key Terms

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What Is Bacterial Meningitis?
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Page Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral meningitis. Updated August 6, 2019.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial meningitis. Updated August 6, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningitis. Updated January 21, 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal disease. Updated June 7, 2017.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal vaccines for preteens and teens: Information for parents. Updated July 26, 2019.