Meningitis is an infection of the fluid of a person's spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. People sometimes refer to it as spinal meningitis. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Knowing whether meningitis is caused by a virus or bacterium is important because the severity of illness and the treatment differ.
Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disability. For bacterial meningitis, it is also important to know which type of bacteria is causing the meningitis because antibiotics can prevent some types from spreading and infecting other people.
Before the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, but new vaccines being given to all children as part of their routine immunizations have reduced the occurrence of invasive disease due to Hib. Today, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis are the leading causes of bacterial meningitis.
High fever, headache, and stiff neck are common symptoms of meningitis in anyone over the age of 2 years. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days.
Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to detect, and the infant may only appear slow or inactive, or be irritable, have vomiting, or be feeding poorly.
As the disease progresses, patients of any age may have seizures.
Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. If symptoms occur, the patient should see a doctor immediately. The diagnosis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid. The spinal fluid is obtained by performing a spinal tap, in which a needle is inserted into an area in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal is readily accessible. Identification of the type of bacteria responsible is important for selection of correct antibiotics.
Bacterial meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is important, however, that treatment be started early in the course of the disease. Appropriate antibiotic treatment of most common types of bacterial meningitis should reduce the risk of dying from meningitis to below 15%, although the risk is higher among the elderly.
Yes, some forms are bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (i.e., coughing, kissing). Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as things 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.
However, sometimes the bacteria that cause meningitis have spread to other people who have had close or prolonged contact with a patient with meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcal meningitis) or Hemophilus influenzae. People in the same household or day-care center, or anyone with direct contact with a patient's oral secretions (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend) would be considered at increased risk of acquiring the infection. People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningitis caused by N. meningitidis should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.
Yes, there is a vaccine that protects against most strains of N. meningitidis. There are also vaccines against Hemophilus influenzae and against many types of Streptococcus pneumoniae.
The CSU Health Network can provide meningitis vaccines for the CSU Community at our cost; supplies may be limited.
No appointment is necessary and immunization walk-in hours in the Hartshorn Building are 9:00am-4:00pm, Monday -Friday.
For additional information, contact the CSU Health Network Immunization Office at 970-491-6548.
CSU and the Larimer County Department of Health advise that CSU students, particularly freshmen planning to live in residence halls, consider getting the meningococcal vaccine. Other at-risk groups (defined below) may consider getting the vaccine. NOTE: The vaccine is not medically approved for use in persons over 55.
Groups for whom the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended routine vaccination against meningococcal disease include:
In 2011 the CDC published recommendation advising that if a person received a meningococcal vaccine before age 16, they should receive a one-time booster dose, preferably at age 16-18. If the first dose was given after their 16th birthday, a booster is not needed.
If you have specific questions about the meningococcal disease, contact the CSU Health Network at (970) 491-7121.
Please refer to CSU's Public Safety website for specific information pertaining to the meningococcal disease situations and immunization locations and schedules.
Larimer County Health Department Fact Sheet on Meningococcal Disease
Larimer County Meningococcal Disease Q & A
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention â€“ Meningococcal Vaccines: What You Need to Know