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What is meningitis and whether is it contagious?

  • Posted on- Aug 17, 2015
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Meningitis refers to the inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord. An infection is the main cause of this disease and it can be bacterial, viral, or fungal in nature and yes, it is contagious. Though, the infection is most common in kids, teens, young adults, and elderly people may also get this infection. Its symptoms include common cold, flu, vomiting, nausea, stiff neck, headache, low appetite, seizures, sensitivity to light, high fever, drowsiness, joint pain, muscle pain, etc. If the symptoms are limited to cold, flu, and fever, it becomes difficult to differentiate between common ailments and this disease.

In some cases of viral meningitis, a person may suffer from rash on the arms and legs too. Moreover, the symptoms do not surface in every individual contracting the infection. Thus, you may unknowingly spread it to other healthy individuals. The infection is more severe in people, who act as carriers than the ones with symptomatic infection. The severity ranges from mild symptoms that are mentioned above to permanent disability, or even death in some cases.

How meningitis is transmitted?

Meningitis is caused by bacteria, fungi, protozoa, or virus and is spread easily from one person to another. Viral or bacterial infection is highly contagious, as it spreads through the respiratory secretions of the infected person. College students, boarding school students, teenagers, etc., are at a higher risk of contracting this disease, as they are mostly confined to closed rooms. The incubation period of this virus is about 10 days, after which, the disease spreads to others. These viruses thrive at the back of the nose and mouth, and enter the respiratory system of an uninfected person, through an unguarded sneeze or a cough. However, bacterial infection is comparatively less contagious than viral infection. This is because the bacteria cannot thrive outside the human body for long. It spreads through intimacy and exchange of body fluids like saliva. This includes kissing, drinking fluids from the same glass, sharing toothbrushes, towels, food, utensils, etc.

How long is meningitis contagious?

People often want to know how long this infectious disease is contagious. However, the answer to this question is not very definite. First of all, the nature of the infection (bacterial or viral) should be diagnosed. The symptoms of viral meningitis do not occur immediately after the person has been infected by the virus. It takes about 5 - 7 days for the symptoms to manifest. Most often, it is impossible for the virus to overcome the body's immune system, hence, although the virus remains inside the body, there are no symptoms presented at the surface. However, it is possible for the virus to still spread through the modes of transmission mentioned above. The person, who is infected with the virus, is capable of transmitting it to others for several days, irrespective of whether he shows any symptoms or not. On the other hand, the symptoms of bacterial meningitis show up within 2 - 3 days of contraction of the infection. It is then considered contagious for the next 10 - 12 days.

How to Prevent the Infection?

Meningitis is not only contagious, but it can also prove to be fatal. One should take sufficient precautions, in order to prevent this infection. The following precautionary measures are essential to prevent the contraction of meningitis.

  • Basic hygiene like washing hands after visiting the toilet is necessary.
  • Children should be potty trained and should possess toilet etiquette.
  • Haemophilia vaccine helps in the prevention of bacterial meningitis in children.
  • The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine helps in preventing pneumococcal meningitis.
  • Surfaces should be cleaned with a disinfectant or chlorine bleach.
  • The mouth should be covered with a napkin or handkerchief while sneezing or coughing.
  • Do not share drinks, utensils, and items of personal hygiene with an infected person.
  • Do not indulge in kissing or intimacy with an infected person.
  • Get yourself and your child immunized on a regular basis.

Meningitis can be lethal, if not treated in time. Bacterial meningitis, particularly, gives you very little time about 1 - 2 days after the symptoms appear. Hence, if you have high fever that lasts more than 24 hours, consult a doctor immediately. Do not try to treat yourself with over-the-counter medications.


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