Viral and Bacterial
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Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, the tissues and fluid
covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is usually caused by a
virus or a bacterium.
Viral meningitis is the most common, but least severe form of
meningitis. Patients generally recover from viral meningitis without
receiving any treatment and have little or no long-term consequences.
In the United States, especially during the summer months, most viral
meningitis cases are caused by enteroviruses. This group of viruses
includes: enteroviruses, coxsackieviruses, and echoviruses. These
viruses are most often spread by fecal contamination (e.g., not washing
hands properly after using the toilet or changing a diaper and before
eating) or by direct contact with respiratory secretions (e.g., saliva,
nasal mucus). There is no vaccine to prevent viral meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis is less frequent, but generally more severe than
viral, and may lead to permanent damage (e.g., brain damage, hearing
loss) or death. Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics to
prevent serious consequences and to reduce the transmission of disease
to other people.
Before the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine was
introduced as part of routine childhood immunizations in 1990, Hib
disease was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children
younger than 5 years. Currently, the leading causes of bacterial
meningitis are Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcus)
and Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus).
The meningococcal vaccine protects against 4 of the 5 most common
strains of Neisseria meningitidis, and the newest pneumococcal
vaccine protects against 13 strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae.
The Hib and pneumococcal vaccines are part of the routine childhood
immunization schedule, and the meningococcal vaccine is recommended for
adolescents aged 11-12 years, with a booster at age 16 years.
The links below provide more detailed information:
Meningitis - CDC
Active Bacterial Core
surveillance (ABCs) Program - CDC
Local Health Departments - Regional offices - Tribal agencies
January 23, 2014