Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The condition can be caused by a viral, fungal or bacterial infection. Bacterial meningitis is caused by a number of different types of bacteria, many of which are commonly found in the environment and even with people without causing the host harm.
Bacterial meningitis is usually severe and while most people recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities. In the United States, approximately 500 deaths occur each year due to the condition.
There are several types of bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis. In the United States the leading causes include: Haemophilus influenzae (most often caused by type b, Hib), Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli and Neisseria meningitidis.
Some of these bacteria can be contagious and be spread to other people. This usually happens when there is close or long contact with a sick person or due to direct contact with a sick person's oral secretions. Unlike most causes of bacterial meningitis, you can get Listeria monocytogenes by eating contaminated food.
There are also factors that can increase one's risk of developing bacterial meningitis. They include:
• Age: Infants are at higher risk for bacterial meningitis than people in other age groups. However, people of any age are at risk.
• Community Settings: Infectious diseases tend to spread more quickly where larger groups of people gather together.
• Medical Conditions: There are certain diseases, medications and surgical procedures that may weaken the immune system or increase the risk of meningitis.
• Travel: Travelers to the certain regions of the globe may be at higher risk of developing the condition.
Bacterial meningitis can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics with early treatment.