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Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord that can be caused by both viruses and bacteria.

Bacterial meningitis

Meningitis caused by bacteria is rare, but very serious. A common bacterial form that is seen in adolescents and young adults is meningococcal meningitis.  Early diagnosis and treatment for Meningococcal meningitis is essential as it can be life threatening.

What are the symptoms?

  • Fever greater than 101 degrees
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Mental changes/confusion
  • Neck and back stiffness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Rash
  • Seizure: faint or move or behave strangely

How is it spread?

Bacterial meningitis is transmitted through the direct exchange of respiratory or throat secretions such as coughing, kissing, or sharing unwashed eating/drinking utensils.

How is it treated?

If you have bacterial meningitis, you will need to be hospitalized and isolated to prevent further spread of the infection. You will be treated with intravenous antibiotics. People who have had close contact with persons with known bacterial meningitis should contact the IUHC or their primary care urgently to consider a preventive course of antibiotics.

How is it prevented?

  • Healthy habits such as not smoking, getting adequate exercise and eating well, managing stress, washing hands and not sharing oral or respiratory secretions.
  • Vaccination is the BEST form of protection. Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all adolescents and teens 11-18 years of age. Additionally, college students under the age of 22 who live in residence halls or Greek houses should receive the vaccine from their home primary care provider before coming to college, or at the IUHC Immunization Clinic (812) 855-7688. Some students may require boosters. See “Resources” below for links to additional vaccine information.

Viral Meningitis

Bacterial and viral meningitis can present with the same symptoms and testing is required to determine the exact cause. Viral meningitis is often less severe than bacterial meningitis and usually resolves without specific treatment. It can be severe or fatal depending on the virus causing the infection, the person’s age and immune system status.


Center for Disease Control: 

UpToDate Patient Information: