Encephalitis and Meningitis

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Take the Meningitis Quiz

Is meningitis contagious?

Yes, some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (for example, coughing, kissing). Sometimes the bacteria that cause meningitis can spread to other people who have had close or prolonged contact with a patient with meningitis. Meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcal meningitis) is the most important example. People in the same household, dormitory, or day-care center, or anyone with direct contact with a patient's oral secretions would be considered at increased risk of acquiring the infection. This also holds true for health-care professionals involved in direct, prolonged contact, especially during procedures such as intubations (placing a breathing tube). People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningitis caused by N. meningitidis should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.

Is it possible to prevent meningitis? Is there a meningitis vaccine?

Basic steps to avoid spread of organisms, such a hand washing and covering one's mouth when coughing, will also help in decreasing the risk of spreading meningitis. There are vaccines against Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) and against some strains of N. meningitidis and many types of Streptococcus pneumoniae.

The vaccines against Hib are considered very safe and highly effective. By 6 months of age, every infant should receive at least three doses of a Hib vaccine. A fourth dose ("booster") should be given to children between 12 and 18 months of age.

There are two vaccines available to prevent N. meningitides (meningococcal) infections in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) vaccine committee has expanded its recommendation for immunization against meningitis B. The previous recommendation was limited to people at high risk of getting the disease, such as lab workers and students at colleges with outbreaks. Now the advisory committee urges all people between the ages of 16 and 23 to discuss this vaccine with their health-care professionals and to consider the vaccine.

The CDC recommends meningococcal conjugate vaccine for preteens and teens, including a booster shot. This is especially important for those intending to attend college as living in the large college environment is a risk factor for developing meningococcal meningitis.

Although large epidemics of meningococcal meningitis do not occur in the United States, some countries experience large, periodic epidemics. Overseas travelers should check to see if meningococcal vaccine is recommended for their destination. Travelers should receive the vaccine at least one week before departure if possible.

A vaccine to prevent meningitis due to S. pneumoniae (also called pneumococcal meningitis) can also prevent other forms of infection due to S. pneumoniae. The pneumococcal vaccine is not effective in children under 2 years of age, but it is recommended for all people over 65 years of age and younger people with certain chronic medical problems.


United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "2012 Recommended Immunizations for Children From 7 Through 18 Years Old." Feb. 6, 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/who/teens/downloads/parent-version-schedule-7-18yrs.pdf>.

United States. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. "Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet." Dec. 18, 2009. <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/encephalitis_meningitis/detail_encephalitis_meningitis.htm>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/16/2015
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