Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes (meninges) covering the brain and the spinal cord. Although the most common causes are infection (bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic), chemical agents and even tumor cells may cause meningitis.
Meningitis can produce a wide range of symptoms including fever, headache or confusion and in extreme cases, deafness, brain damage, stroke, seizures or even death. Encephalitis and brain abscess can complicate infective meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis calls for emergency medical care and the administration of antibiotics. Close contacts of patients with bacterial meningitis may receive prophylactic antibiotics, such as rifampin. Definitive diagnosis can be made by laboratory tests of cerebrospinal fluid obtained by a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
Twenty to thirty percent of children who survive bacterial meningitis sustain permanent neurological damage such as deafness, mental retardation, or convulsions. Since the late 1980s, routine vaccination of young children against Hib has virtually eliminated Hib disease in the United States.
Routine vaccination against meningococcal meningitis is recommended for pre-adolescents, and vaccination is also recommended for persons in the military or traveling to parts of Africa where the disease is endemic. The meningococcal vaccine does not provide protection against all meningococcus strains