Bacterial Meningitis

  • What is meningitis?

    Meningitis is an inflammation of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by viruses,
    parasites, fungi, and bacteria. Viral meningitis is most common and the least serious. Bacterial meningitis is
    the most common form of serious bacterial infection with the potential for serious, long-term complications. It
    is an uncommon disease, but requires urgent treatment with antibiotics to prevent permanent damage or death.

    What are the symptoms?

    Someone with meningitis will become very ill. The illness may develop over one or two days, but it can also
    rapidly progress in a matter of hours. Not everyone with meningitis will have the same symptoms.
    Children (over 2 years old) and adults with meningitis may have a severe headache, high temperature,
    vomiting, sensitivity to bright lights, neck stiffness or joint pains, and drowsiness or confusion. In both
    children and adults, there may be a rash of tiny, red-purple spots. These can occur anywhere on the body.
    The diagnosis of bacterial meningitis is based on a combination of symptoms and laboratory results.

    How serious is bacterial meningitis?

    If it is diagnosed early and treated promptly, the majority of people make a complete recovery. In some cases
    it can be fatal or a person may be left with a permanent disability.

    How is bacterial meningitis spread?

    Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as diseases like the common cold or
    the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis
    has been. The germs live naturally in the back of our noses and throats, but they do not live for long outside
    the body. They are spread when people exchange saliva (such as by kissing, sharing drinking containers,
    utensils, or cigarettes).
    The germ does not cause meningitis in most people. Instead, most people become carriers of the germ for
    days, weeks, or even months. The bacteria rarely overcome the body’s immune system and cause meningitis
    or another serious illness.

    How can bacterial meningitis be prevented?

    Do not share food, drinks, utensils, toothbrushes, or cigarettes. Limit the number of persons you kiss.
    While there are vaccines for some other strains of bacterial meningitis, they are used only in special
    circumstances. These include when there is a disease outbreak in a community or for people traveling to a
    country where there is a high risk of getting the disease. Also, a vaccine is recommended by some groups for
    college students, particularly freshmen living in dorms or residence halls. The vaccine is safe and effective
    (85–90 percent). It can cause mild side effects, such as redness and pain at the injection site lasting up to two
    days. Immunity develops within seven to ten days after the vaccine is given and lasts for up to five years.

    What should you do if you think you or a friend might have bacterial meningitis?

    You should seek prompt medical attention.

    Where can you get more information?

    Your school nurse, family doctor, and the staff at your local or regional health department office are excellent
    sources for information on all communicable diseases. You may also call your local health department or
    Regional Department of State Health Services office to ask about a meningococcal vaccine. Additional
    information may also be found at the web sites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, particularly
    the CDC’s information on bacterial meningitis, and the Department of State Health Services.


    Note: DSHS requires at least one meningococcal vaccination on or after the student’s 11th birthday, unless the student received the vaccine at age 10. Also note that entering college students must show, with limited exception, evidence of receiving a bacterial meningitis vaccination within the five-year period prior to enrolling in and taking courses at an institution of higher education. Please see the school nurse for more information, as this may affect a student who wishes to enroll in a dual credit course taken off campus.