Meningitis is an infection of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be
caused by viruses, fungi, parasites, chemicals and bacteria. Common symptoms of
meningitis include severe headache, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, photophobia, and rash.
Nursing homes, dormitories, day care centers and schools are often where outbreaks of
Bacterial meningitis is the most serious and can be fatal or cause serious complications.
The two most common types of bacteria that cause meningitis are Streptococcus
pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcal disease. Each
year, an estimated 1,400-2,800 cases of meningococcal disease occur in the United
States. If bacterial meningitis is suspected call your local health department. It is
extremely important to identify if the meningitis is caused by Neisseria meningitdis so
that antibiotics can be administered and prophylaxis can be given to close contacts of the
Viral meningitis, also known as aseptic meningitis, is a less severe form of meningitis
that is common in the general population and is rarely fatal. There are between 25,000
and 50,000 hospitalizations due to viral meningitis each year in the United States. Most
cases of viral meningitis are caused by enteroviruses and tend to occur in late summer
and early fall. Viral meningitis should not be treated with antibiotics and does not require
prophylaxis for close contacts. Most patients recover on their own with rest, fluids and
medication to relieve headache and fever.
The primary method for diagnosing meningitis is a lumbar puncture that is necessary to
differentiate between viral and bacterial meningitis. A lumbar puncture should be
performed as soon as meningitis is suspected and before antibiotics are administered.
This section includes a meningitis flyer, APIC brochures on viral and meningococcal
meningitis, meningococcal information from the CDC, and diagnostic tools for
WHO. Control of epidemic meningococcal disease. Available at
National Institute of Health. Meningitis Fact Sheet. Available at