Get Health Answers



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

Bacterial meningitis

Meningitis caused by bacteria is rare, but very serious and a medical emergency.  A common bacterial form that is seen in adolescents and young adults is meningococcal meningitis and those age 16-23 are at higher risk for this disease.  Early diagnosis and treatment for meningococcal meningitis is essential as it can be life threatening.  Anyone with these symptoms should be seen right away:

  • Fever
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Neck and back stiffness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Rash
  • Mental changes/confusion

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 urgently should contact the IUHC or their primary care to consider a preventive course of antibiotics.

Anyone can get meningococcal meningitis. Healthy habits are still important:  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. There two types of meningococcal vaccine, one can help prevent meningococcal disease caused by subgroups A, C, W and Y and the other can help prevent the disease caused by subgroup B.  Ideally college students under the age of 23 should receive these vaccines before coming to campus.  These vaccines are also available at the IU Health Center Immunization department, call 812-855-7688 to schedule.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis can present with the same symptoms as bacterial meningitis listed above.  It is often less severe than bacterial meningitis and usually resolves without specific treatment. Testing is needed right away to diagnosis if the disease is viral or bacterial. 

For more information go to:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention