Is Meningitis Contagious?

Reviewed on 12/14/2020

What Is Meningitis?

Viral and bacterial forms of meningitis are considered contagious, while fungal, parasitic, and non-infectious forms are not. This infection and inflammation of the protective “meninges” covering the brain and spinal cord.
Viral and bacterial forms of meningitis are considered contagious, while fungal, parasitic, and non-infectious forms are not. This infection and inflammation of the protective “meninges” covering the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (called the “meninges”). 

What Are Symptoms of Meningitis?

Symptoms of meningitis include a sudden onset of:

Other symptoms of meningitis include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Eye sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)
  • Sleepiness or trouble waking up from sleep
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Symptoms of meningitis in newborns and babies may include:

  • Inactivity or slow movement
  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness or trouble waking up from sleep
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Vomit
  • Poor feeding
  • Bulging fontanelle (soft spot on an infant’s head) 
  • Abnormal reflexes

Meningitis caused by the parasite A. cantonensis may cause tingling or painful feelings in the skin. 

What Causes Meningitis?

Meningitis has a number of causes: 

  • Bacteria
    • Group B Streptococcus 
    • S. pneumoniae
    • L. monocytogenes
    • E. coli
    • N. meningitidis
    • H. influenzae type b (Hib)
  • Viruses
  • Fungus
    • Cryptococcus
    • Histoplasma
    • Blastomyces
    • Coccidioides
    • Candida
  • Parasites, which can cause a rare form of meningitis called eosinophilic meningitis, eosinophilic meningoencephalitis (EM)
    • Angiostrongylus cantonensis (neurologic angiostrongyliasis)
    • Baylisascaris procyonis (baylisascariasis; neural larva migrans)
    • Gnathostoma spinigerum (neurognathostomiasis)
    • Ameba (rare, usually fatal)
    • Naegleria fowleri 
  • Non–infectious 

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Is Meningitis Contagious?

Viral and bacterial forms of meningitis are considered contagious, while fungal, parasitic, and non-infectious forms are not. 

Depending on the germ, viral and bacterial meningitis may be transmitted a number of ways:

  • From person-to-person through respiratory droplets from propelled into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even breathes
  • By close contact with an infected person, such as kissing or living in close quarters
  • By touching an object or surface with the germ on it and then touching your face or an open wound without first washing your hands
  • Eating contaminated foods
  • Mothers can pass certain bacteria to their babies during childbirth
  • Through soil, on decaying wood and leaves, and in bird or bat droppings 
  • Swimming in contaminated bodies of water

How Is Meningitis Diagnosed?

After a patient’s history (which may include a travel history) and physical examination, if meningitis is suspected, testing to diagnose the illness may include: 

  • Cerebrospinal fluid tests
  • Blood tests
  • Nose or throat swabs
  • Stool sample testing
  • Brain scan

What Is the Treatment for Meningitis?

Treatment for meningitis depends on the cause.

  • Treatment for bacterial meningitis includes: 
  • Treatment for viral meningitis includes: 
    • No specific treatment
    • Antiviral medicine if the meningitis is caused by viruses such as herpesvirus and influenza
    • Antibiotics are not used to treat viral infections 
  • Treatment for fungal meningitis includes: 
    • Long courses of high-dose antifungal medications, often given intravenously (IV), followed by oral antifungal medications 
  • Treatment for parasitic meningitis includes: 
    • Pain medication for headaches
    • Medications to reduce the body’s reaction to the parasite
    • Treatment for amebic meningitis includes a medication called miltefosine. However, amebic meningitis is typically fatal. 
  • Treatment for non–infectious meningitis involves treating the underlying condition.

What Are Complications of Meningitis?

Complications of meningitis include: 

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Brain damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Learning disabilities
  • Loss of coordination and muscle control
  • Weakness/paralysis
  • Permanent disability
  • Sepsis, a life-threatening immune response to infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death
  • Death

How Do You Prevent Meningitis?

To prevent some forms of meningitis: 

  • Get vaccines on schedule
    • Meningococcal vaccines to help protect against N. meningitidis
    • Pneumococcal vaccines to help protect against S. pneumoniae
    • Hib vaccines to help protect against Hib
    • Vaccines to protect against certain diseases, such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, and influenza, that can lead to viral meningitis

Pregnant women who test positive for group B Streptococcus when they are 36-37 weeks pregnant can receive antibiotics during labor to prevent passing group B strep to their newborns

Pregnant women can reduce their risk of meningitis caused by L. monocytogenes by avoiding certain foods during pregnancy such as soft cheeses, celery, sprouts, cantaloupe, and ice cream

Healthy lifestyle practices can help prevent infection such as: 

  • Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Washing hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • Avoid close contact, including touching and shaking hands, with people who are sick
  • Avoid bites from mosquitoes and other insects that carry diseases that can infect humans
  • Control mice and rat infestations
  • People with a weak immune system should avoid large amounts of bird or bat droppings, digging in soil, and dusty activities to prevent fungal infection

 

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Reviewed on 12/14/2020
References
https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html