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For Emergencies, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
For Non-emergent health issues, please contact your local health provider or hospital.
Bacterial meningitis is serious. Some people with the infection die and death can occur in as little as a few hours. However, most people recover from bacterial meningitis. Those who do recover can have permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities
Several types of bacteria can cause meningitis. Leading causes in the United States include:
Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis or TB, is a less common cause of bacterial meningitis (called TB meningitis).
Many of these bacteria can also be associated with another serious illness, sepsis. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis happens when an infection triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Without timely treatment, sepsis can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
Some causes of bacterial meningitis are more likely to affect certain age groups:
Certain factors increase a person’s risk for getting bacterial meningitis. These risk factors include:
In many countries, TB is much more common than in the United States. Travelers should avoid close contact or prolonged time with known TB patients in crowded, enclosed environments (for example, clinics, hospitals, prisons, or homeless shelters).
Certain germs that cause bacterial meningitis, such as L. monocytogenes, can spread through food. But most of these germs spread from one person to another.
How people spread the germs often depends on the type of bacteria. It is also important to know that people can have these bacteria in or on their bodies without being sick. These people are “carriers.” Most carriers never become sick, but can still spread the bacteria to others.
Here are some of the most common examples of how people spread each type of bacteria to each other:
People usually get sick from E. coli and L. monocytogenes by eating contaminated food.
If a doctor suspects meningitis, they will collect samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (fluid near the spinal cord). A laboratory will test the samples to see what is causing the infection. Knowing the specific cause of meningitis helps doctors treat it.
Doctors treat bacterial meningitis with a number of antibiotics. It is important to start treatment as soon as possible.
Vaccines are the most effective way to protect against certain types of bacterial meningitis. There are vaccines for 4 types of bacteria that can cause meningitis:
Make sure you and your child are vaccinated on schedule.
Like with any vaccine, these vaccines do not work 100% of the time. The vaccines also do not protect against infections from all the types (strains) of each of these bacteria. For these reasons, there is still a chance vaccinated people can develop bacterial meningitis.
When someone has bacterial meningitis, a doctor may recommend antibiotics to help prevent people around the patient from getting sick. Doctors call this prophylaxis. CDC recommends prophylaxis for:
Doctors or local health departments recommend who should get prophylaxis.
You can also help protect yourself and others from bacterial meningitis and other health problems by maintaining healthy habits:
These healthy habits are especially important for people at increased risk for disease, including:
Meningitis symptoms include sudden onset of:
There are often other symptoms, such as:
Newborns and babies may not have, or it may be difficult to notice the classic symptoms listed above. Instead, babies may
If you think your baby or child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.
Typically, symptoms of bacterial meningitis develop within 3 to 7 days after exposure; note, this is not true for TB meningitis, which can develop much later after exposure to the bacteria.
People with bacterial meningitis can have seizures, go into a coma, and even die. For this reason, anyone who thinks they may have meningitis should see a doctor as soon as possible.