Bacterial meningitis can be severe and fatal and therefore requires immediate antibiotic treatment. If you notice symptoms of meningitis, do not delay, consult a doctor or go to the accident and emergency department immediately.
What causes meningitis?
Meningitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungal infections (rare).
Viral meningitis generally clears up spontaneously, without treatment.
Bacterial meningitis can be very serious and requires immediate antibiotic treatment. It can be caused by different types of bacteria:
- meningococcal (Neisseria meningitidis)
- pneumococcal (Streptococcus pneumoniae)
- Hib (Haemophilus influenzae)
- listeria (Listeria monocytogenes)
- other bacteria: Escherichia coli, staphylococcus, gram-negative bacilli.
In temperate zones, the number of cases of meningitis peaks in the winter. The respiratory mucous membranes are already irritated by the dry air and any episodes of cold and flu.
In sub-Saharan Africa (the African meningitis belt), cases of meningitis peak during dust-storm season (the Harmattan), which would also make the respiratory mucous membranes more fragile.
How is meningitis transmitted?
The bacteria that cause meningitis are transmitted from person to person by saliva and secretions from the throat and nose during close contact that lasts a number of hours:
- when coughing
- when sneezing
- when kissing
- when blowing one's nose
- when speaking
- when carrying infected objects in one's mouth (very rare).
The propagation of meningitis is mainly observed in closed communities (for example: families, crèches, boarding schools, dormitories, in densely populated areas).
DID YOU KNOW? It is estimated that, in normal periods, between 10 and 20% of the population are carriers of Neisseria meningitidis (healthy or asymptomatic carriers). It is only in rare cases that the bacterium is invasive and causes an invasive meningococcal disease, such as meningitis and/or septicaemia.
Where are the bacteria found?
The bacteria that belong to the meningococcal (Neisseria meningitidis) group are only present in humans, at the back of the throat or in the nose.
There are no animal reservoirs.
Anyone can be a carrier of meningococcus, without necessarily being ill (healthy or asymptomatic carriers).
The risk of contagion is very high for people in close contact with the infected person.
Without antibiotic treatment, the risk of contagion is highest during the first 7 days after symptoms start.