Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
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The inflammation is usually caused by bacteria or viruses (viral meningitis is also called aseptic meningitis). Less common causes include fungi, protozoa, and other parasites. Sometimes certain medications, cancers, or other diseases can inflame the meninges, although such noninfectious cases of meningitis are much rarer.

Many of the bacteria or viruses that can cause meningitis are fairly common and are more often associated with other everyday illnesses. Sometimes, however, they spread to the meninges from an infection in another part of the body. The infection can start anywhere, including in the skin, gastrointestinal tract, or urinary system, but the most common source is the respiratory tract. From there the microorganisms can enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and enter the central nervous system. In some cases of bacterial meningitis, the bacteria spread directly to the meninges from a severe nearby infection, such as a serious ear infection or sinus infection. Bacteria may also enter the central nervous system after severe head trauma or head surgery.

Bacterial meningitis is caused by several different types of germs which live naturally at the back of the nose and throat and can be spread by close prolonged contact, coughing, sneezing and kissing.

Meningitis can also be a feature of other diseases, including Lyme disease, Leptospirosis, Typhus, Tuberculosis and other infections.

Other sources of information for these topics.

DBMD - Meningococcal Disease - General Information
... graphic to jump to top of page. Is meningitis contagious? Yes, some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria are spread through the ...

Meningitis Research Foundation
Includes information on symptoms, diagnosis, after effects, scientific research and on support for those who have experienced the disease.

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