Encephalitis and Meningitis (cont.)
Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Encephalitis and meningitis facts
- What is encephalitis?
- What causes encephalitis?
- What are encephalitis symptoms and signs?
- What is meningitis?
- What causes meningitis?
- What are meningitis symptoms and signs?
- What is encephalomyelitis?
- How are encephalitis and meningitis diagnosed?
- What is the treatment of encephalitis and meningitis?
- What is the prognosis (outlook) for patients with encephalitis or meningitis?
- Is meningitis contagious?
- Can meningitis be prevented?
- Take the Meningitis Quiz
- View the Dementia Slideshow
- West Nile Virus Slideshow
- Meningitis FAQs
Is meningitis contagious?
Yes. Especially some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (for example, coughing, kissing). Sometimes the bacteria that cause meningitis can spread to other people who have had close or prolonged contact with a patient with meningitis. Meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcal meningitis) is the most important example. People in the same household, dormitory, 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. This also holds true for health care professionals involved in direct, prolonged contact, especially during procedures such as intubations (placing a breathing tube). 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.
Can meningitis be prevented?
Basic steps to avoid spread of organisms, such a hand washing and covering your mouth when coughing, will also help in decreasing the risk of spreading meningitis. There are vaccines against Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) and against some strains of N. meningitidis and many types of Streptococcus pneumoniae.
The vaccines against Hib are considered very safe and highly effective. By 6 months of age, every infant should receive at least three doses of a Hib vaccine. A fourth dose ("booster") should be given to children between 12 and 18 months of age.
There are vaccines available to prevent N. meningitides infections.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal conjugate vaccine for preteens and teens, including a booster shot. This is especially important for those intending to attend college as living in the large college environment is a risk factor for developing meningococcal meningitis.
Although large epidemics of meningococcal meningitis do not occur in the United States, some countries experience large, periodic epidemics. Overseas travelers should check to see if meningococcal vaccine is recommended for their destination. Travelers should receive the vaccine at least one week before departure if possible.
A vaccine to prevent meningitis due to S. pneumoniae (also called pneumococcal meningitis) can also prevent other forms of infection due to S. pneumoniae. The pneumococcal vaccine is not effective in children under 2 years of age, but it is recommended for all people over 65 years of age and younger people with certain chronic medical problems.
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "2012 Recommended Immunizations for Children From 7 Through 18 Years Old." Feb. 6, 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/who/teens/downloads/parent-version-schedule-7-18yrs.pdf>.
United States. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. "Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet." Dec. 18, 2009. <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/encephalitis_meningitis/detail_encephalitis_meningitis.htm>.
Last Editorial Review: 6/18/2012
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