Is Meningitis Contagious?

There are protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and they are referred to as the meninges. The integrity and health of these important membranes is vital to neurological health. Meningitis is a condition in which the meninges become inflamed. Typically, this is the result of an infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Meningitis can cause significant damage to the nervous system and can lead to death. Thus people ask: Is meningitis contagious?

What Causes Meningitis?

Though meningitis is primarily caused by viruses and bacteria, there can be other causes as well. This occurs when infections in various parts of the body such as the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems and the skin spread into the bloodstream and eventually infect the delicate meninges. These membranes are there partly to protect the nervous system from infection. However, like any other part of the body, they are susceptible to infection

Serious head trauma or surgery at the spine or brain could also lead to this infection. Additionally, there is a chance of parasitic and fungal infections to the body. The likelihood of meningitis is much higher with these conditions, though they are rare. Cancer and particular medications also contribute to risk of or directly cause meningitis.

Is Meningitis Contagious?

Viral and bacterial meningitis are contagious. While other types of meningitis such as fungal meningitis, parasitic meningitis and non-infectious meningitis are not contagious. Besides, they are also very rare.

How Does It Spread?

The spread of infection usually needs to be up close and personal. This means that any bodily fluid exposure or exchange will increase risk, which includes kissing, sneezing, coughing as well as sharing of eating utensils, food, towels and glasses.

When young people are physically close to each other, it is possible to transmit what are known as meningococcal bacteria. These are bacteria which have resisted all means of treatment and moved on to creating meningitis. Living in college dorms or any other living situation which imposes close human contact will spread infections. People over the age of 25 will have an immune advantage but not a guarantee.

Who Are More Likely to Get Infected?

Knowing the answer to "Is meningitis contagious?" is not enough, you should also know the risk factors to avoid the disease in the first place.

  • Young age: Viral meningitis typically occurs with children under the age of 5, while bacterial meningitis is more common in people under 20.
  • People who skipped vaccinations: Children should maintain a vaccination schedule with a primary care physician. When these scheduled vaccinations are missed, risks for development of meningitis increase exponentially.
  • People who live in a communal environment: Any time there is a bacterial or viral outbreak; communities with close physical contact are at a higher risk for spreading of infection. Respiratory infections are rapidly spread in communal living. College dormitories are a prime breeding ground.
  • Pregnant women: Is meningitis contagious to and from pregnant women? There is a distinct risk of infection with listeria bacterial infection with pregnant women. The condition of infection is called listeriosis and it is common in pregnancy. This infection can eventually cause meningitis.
  • People with compromised immune system: People with organ transplants and autoimmune disorders typically take medications which can lower immunity. Anyone with HIV developing into AIDS is at risk for myriad infections. Diabetes and alcoholism are also risk factors.

How Can You Prevent It from Spreading?

Now you know the answer to "Is meningitis contagious?" is yes, it is important to take measures to prevent the spreading and reduce the risk of the disease.

  • Wash your hands carefully: It is apparent throughout the working and existing world that washing your hands on a regular basis is a fundamental practice toward maintaining resistance to infections. Anytime you come in contact with crowds, before you eat and after you use the toilet, wash your hands. This will be an initial step to avoiding meningitis.
  • Maintain a good hygiene: Avoid sharing food or drink with others when possible. Teach your children about this practice too.
  • Be careful with your food: While certain functions of immunity are strengthened during pregnancy, you still may be susceptible to pathogens found in food. Listeriosis risks can be reduced by ensuring all meats are cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure all dairy products you consume are made from pasteurized milk.
  • Stay healthy: Make sure you get adequate sleep and exercise and eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and healthy grains.
  • Don't transmit germs: Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.
  • Be sure to get immunizations up to date, followed by meningitis booster shots as well. Your physician should also advise you of immunizations you will need before you travel, as some countries present higher risks for meningitis.

How Is It Treated?

For Viral Meningitis

Typically, viral meningitis will be challenged and defeated by the immune system. Since antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, they are ineffective against viral meningitis. Antiviral drugs may be used. Is meningitis contagious in this form? It can be. Wearing a germ mask will help. There is help available for this condition. Sometimes hospitalization may be necessary. But in most cases, the following treatments at home will help:

  • Rest: Bed rest will help the body to heal itself. Engage in non-physical activities.
  • Reduce the fever: All over the counter analgesics are also anti-pyretic, meaning they will reduce fever. You can also use cold compresses and ice baths.
  • Relieve the pain: The same medications used to relieve fevers will also relieve pain.
  • Hydrate: Water, coconut water, natural juices, and teas without caffeine will help rehydrate the body. Do the same for children.
  • Be aware of complications: If the fever associated with viral meningitis lasts longer than expected, seek medical attention. Seizures can occur and this is the occasion to dial 911.

For Bacterial Meningitis

Meningitis caused by bacterial infection needs to be addressed in a hospital environment. This is a serious situation and should be treated with IV antibiotics with full medical supervision. The span of time in the hospital depends on the severity of illness.

Corticosteroids may also be prescribed in the interim in order to prevent loss of hearing, which is common with bacterial meningitis. Any other problems along with the infection will also be treated. In severe cases, bacterial meningitis can cause permanent damage to the brain without immediate diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, always contact your doctor if you have any symptoms.

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