Is Meningitis Contagious?

The protective membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord are called meninges. These membranes may become inflamed due to an infection of the fluid surrounding your spinal cord and brain. The inflammation of these membranes is called meningitis. Viruses or bacteria usually cause the disease, but cancer, physical injuries or certain drugs can also lead to meningitis. Many people have different questions about meningitis. A common question is, "Is meningitis contagious?" To find the answer, it is important to develop a better understanding about what causes meningitis in the first place. Keep reading to discover more.

Meningitis: Contagious or Not?

The answer to your question, "Is meningitis contagious or not?" depends on what causes it in the first place. The type of meningitis you have will also help determine if it is contagious or not. Here's more about different types and their causes.

1.  Viral Meningitis

Contagious or Not: Yes

Viral meningitis is contagious and spreads through direct contact with nasal mucus, saliva or feces. An infected person can spread it through sneezing and coughing. Arboviruses cause meningitis and can transmit through ticks and mosquitoes. Though it is the most common type of meningitis, it isn't life-threatening in most cases.

2.  Bacterial Meningitis

Contagious or Not: Yes

Caused by Haemophilus influenza, Streptococcus pneumonia or Neisseria meningitides, bacterial meningitis is a serious illness with life-threatening consequences. Even though these bacteria are contagious, they are not as contagious as cold and flu germs are. Meningococcal bacterial cannot live outside the body for long, so you won't become infected just by socializing with someone who has it. Prolonged close contact may result in infection though. It can also spread through mucus and saliva. You can even contract it by sharing eating utensils with an infected person.

3.  Fungal Meningitis

Contagious or Not: No

Caused by Cryptococcus, fungal meningitis is quite rare and affects people with impaired immune systems.

4.  Parasitic Meningitis

Contagious or Not: No

It's a very rare and potentially fatal type of meningitis caused mainly by a microscopic amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. It thrives in lakes and rivers and enters your body through your nose. Drinking contaminated water won't cause this infection.

5.  Non-Infectious Meningitis

Contagious or Not: No

Infections are usually the underlying causes of meningitis, but not always. Non-infectious meningitis occurs due to brain surgery or head injury. Cancer, lupus and certain medications may also cause non-infectious meningitis.

Who Is at Higher Risks for Meningitis?

Now that you know the answer to your question, "Is meningitis contagious or not?" you may want to know if anyone can have it or some people are more susceptible to getting infected. Here are some of the most common risk factors for meningitis.

  • You are more likely to develop the infection if you haven't completed your vaccination schedule.
  • Children younger than age 5 are at a great risk for viral meningitis, whereas bacterial meningitis usually affects people under age 20.
  • You are more likely to develop meningitis if you live in a community setting such as military bases, dormitories, childcare schools and boarding facilities. You may become infected with meningococcal meningitis because the bacterium is highly contagious.
  • Pregnant women are at a greater risk of developing meningitis. They usually contract an infection caused by listeria bacteria that may lead to the development of meningitis. Unborn babies of pregnant women with listeriosis are at risk too.
  • Alcoholism, AIDS, use of immunosuppressant drugs and diabetes can weaken your immune system, and people with compromised immune system are more susceptible to meningitis.

Can Meningitis Be Prevented?

Is meningitis contagious? You already know the answer. With the information that many causes can be related with meningitis and common viruses and bacteria can spread meningitis through sneezing, coughing or sharing eating utensils, you can learn how to prevent being infected with it.

1.  Get Vaccinated

You should always take vaccines to protect yourself from being infected. Be sure to protect your child as well by completing the recommended vaccine schedule. Your general physician will guide you in this regard because there are some common vaccinations available, such as pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7), Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) vaccine, pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV), Neisseria meningitidissero groups C and Y vaccine, and meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4).

2.  Take Antibiotics

If you have to be in close contact with people who have meningococcal meningitis, you should take antibiotics. Similarly, you should take antibiotics if someone in your family is infected. These antibiotic medications will protect others in the family from contracting the infection. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to take antibiotics and if there's a high-risk person in your family.

3.  Maintain Healthy Life Habits

You need to maintain healthy habits such as cleaning your eating utensils and not sharing them with others. Be sure to wash your hands frequently and never share foods, drinks, straws, toothbrushes and lip balms with others. Exercise regularly, get enough rest, and have a balanced diet to boost your immune system.

How to Treat Meningitis If You Have Developed the Disease

If you've developed viral meningitis, you will start to feel better after 3 days or so. It may take up to a couple of weeks to recover completely. Most mild cases of viral meningitis only require home treatment. You may have to go to the hospital if you've developed bacterial meningitis. Your treatment may involve taking medicines such as corticosteroids, antibiotics and medicines to reduce fever. Oxygen therapy may help if you have trouble in breathing. It is important to admit to the hospital because you have to be under close observation of your doctors. 

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