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World Meningitis Day 2021

World Meningitis Day 2021

April 24 is World Meningitis Day, raising awareness of the dangers of meningitis in its many forms, especially to vulnerable people such as infants and those with a compromised immune system. Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. The swelling is typically caused by a bacterial or viral infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

World Meningitis Day

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial Meningitis is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Death can actually occur in as little as a few hours, if not treated immediately. In fact, between 5 to 40 percent of children, and 20 to 50 percent of adults with this condition die from it. Most people do recover from meningitis, however; permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities can result from the infection.

Risk Factors

Certain people are at an increased risk for bacterial meningitis. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Age: Infants are at increased risk.
  • Community Setting: College campuses in particular have seen bacterial meningitis outbreaks.
  • Certain Medical Conditions: people without a spleen, or have a spleen that doesn't work properly, are at an increased risk.
  • Working with Meningitis-Causing Pathogens: microbiologists routinely exposed to meningitis causing bacteria are at an increased risk.
  • Travel.

How Bacterial Meningitis Spreads

Generally, the germs that cause bacterial meningitis spread from one person to another:

  • Labor and Birth: Mothers can pass these germs to their babes.
  • Respiratory droplets and particles: These germs can spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, or through secretions by kissing.
  • Food contamination: E. Coli, one of these germs, is often spread through unsafe food handling practices.

Meningitis Signs and Symptoms

Signs & Symptoms

Common symptoms in babies include:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Poor eating
  • Sleepiness, or trouble waking up from sleep
  • Lethargy, or a lack of energy
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • In young infants, a bulging soft spot on the head

Common symptoms in children and adults include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Excessive sleepiness, or trouble waking up from sleep
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy

It's imperative that anyone who thinks they have these symptoms must see a doctor as soon as possible, as immediate treatment with antibiotics is critical.


The most effective way to protect against certain types of bacterial meningitis is to get vaccinated.

Pregnant women should speak to their doctor about getting tested for Group B Streptococcus. Women receive the test between 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy

Causes of Bacterial Meningitis

Viral Meningitis

Non-polio enteroviruses are the most common cause of viral meningitis within the United States, causing anywhere from 10 to 15 million infections and tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. Some of these cases will develop viral meningitis.

Other viruses that can cause meningitis are:

  • Mumps Virus
  • Herpesviruses: including, herpes simplex viruses and varicella-zoster virus (which causes chickenpox and shingles)
  • Measles Virus
  • Influenza Virus
  • Arboviruses, such as the West Nile Virus
  • Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus

Risk Factors

You can develop viral meningitis at any age, but some do have a higher risk of getting the disease, including:

  • Children under 5 years old
  • People with weakened immune systems caused by diseases, medications (for example: chemotherapy), and recent organ or bone marrow transplants.

Symptoms of Viral Meningitis

Initial symptoms of viral meningitis are similar to those for bacterial meningitis, although bacterial meningitis is usually more severe and can cause serious complications.As always, it is critical to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you think you or your child may have meningitis.

Preventing Viral Meningitis

Unfortunately, there are no vaccines to protect against non-polio enteroviruses, which are the most common cause of viral meningitis. But you can protect yourself by following these steps:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or sanitizer when necessary.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, not your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
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