DefinitionThe brain and spinal cord are covered by layers of tissue. These layers are called the meninges. Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord.Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection. It is a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment. Depending on the severity of the infection, it can result in death within hours.
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CausesBacterial meningitis can be caused by many different bacteria. The likelihood of having one type of bacteria over another varies by age group. Severity of the infection depends on the bacteria causing it and the overall health of your immune system. Transmission of the bacteria usually occurs by direct contact with oral or respiratory secretions, such as inhaling droplets from someone who sneezes or coughs, or by kissing. The spread of the bacteria depends on the time of the year, crowding, and the presence other respiratory infections.
Risk FactorsBacterial meningitis is more common in infancy and childhood. For adults, the risk increases as you age. Other factors that may increase your chance of getting bacterial meningitis include:
- Not having recommended vaccinations
- Community living arrangements, such as a college dormitory or military base
- People in close and prolonged contact with people with meningitis
- Supressed immune system caused by certain health conditions or medications
- Penetrating head trauma
- Previous brain surgery, or cerebrospinal fluid shunts
- Birth defects, such as dermal sinus or myelomeningocele, a type of spina bifida
- A history of epidural steroid injections or other invasive spinal procedures
- Cochlear implants
- Alcohol use disorder
- Smoking, or exposure to second-hand smoke
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