What is bacterial meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the lining and fluid covering the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by bacteria or viruses. This page deals with meningitis caused by bacteria.
A variety of different bacteria can cause meningitis. The infection is usually severe. While most people recover, it can cause serious complications such as brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities.
Bacterial meningitis is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?
Symptoms of bacterial meningitis include:
- neck pain and stiffness
- pain when looking at bright lights
- nausea and/or vomiting
- poor appetite
- tiredness and sleepiness
- a rash that looks like blotchy or pinpoint red spots or bruises
The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly, or over several days. More severe symptoms, such as seizures or coma, can develop later.
You should see a health care provider as soon as possible if you have symptoms of meningitis.
How is bacterial meningitis spread?
Bacterial meningitis is usually spread from person to person through direct contact with an infected person’s saliva. Infection can spread through kissing or by sharing items that have been in contact with another person’s saliva, such as drinking glasses, water bottles, eating utensils, or personal items such as mouth guards or toothbrushes. The bacteria does not spread by casual contact.
There are some types of bacteria that can cause meningitis that are not spread from person to person. These bacteria cause meningitis in the person because they have certain risk factors, such as a weak immune system.
How is bacterial meningitis treated?
Antibiotics are effective against meningitis caused by bacteria. It is important that the treatment start right away. Treatment is usually given in hospital.
How is bacterial meningitis prevented?
There are vaccines available to protect people against certain types of bacteria that cause meningitis. These are generally given routinely as part of a child’s immunization schedule. Others are routinely available for adolescents or for people with certain risk factors.
In some cases, the bacteria can be prevented from spreading by giving an antibiotic to people who have had contact with an infected person’s saliva. Generally these are household members or other care providers, sexual partners, or other very close contacts who may have shared saliva. Physicians, along with the local public health unit, decide who should receive antibiotics to prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis.
Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.