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Meningitis is an acute illness resulting from inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (the meninges). Meningitis is also referred to as "spinal meningitis".  Meningitis is most commonly caused by either bacterial or a viral infection but can also be caused by parasites, fungi, physical injury, cancer or certain drugs. The severity of illness and the treatment for meningitis differ depending on the cause.


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Bacterial meningitis is usually more severe than viral and can have serious after-effects, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. Although it can be very serious, bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics to prevent severe illness and complications and reduce the spread of infection from person to person (only indicated for selected bacterial infections). For more information on the most common causes of bacterial meningitis:

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. It can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or meningitis.

Meningococcal disease is an illness caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. It often causes meningitis but it can also cause bloodstream infections, pneumonia, joint infections, and other illness.

Until recently, Hib was one of the most important causes of severe bacterial infection in young children. Hib may cause a variety of diseases such as meningitis, blood stream infections, pneumonia, arthritis and infections of other parts of the body.


Viral meningitis is generally not severe and resolves with supportive care. Most viral meningitis illnesses in the United States, especially during the summer months, are caused by a common groups of viruses called enteroviruses. Only a small number of people with enterovirus infections actually develop meningitis.

 Other viral infections that can lead to meningitis include:

CDC's Meningitis Homepage


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