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Meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections that usually resolve without treatment. However, bacterial infections of the meninges are extremely serious illnesses, and may result in death or brain damage even if treated. Meningitis is also caused by fungi, chemical irritation, drug allergies, and tumors. Viral meningitis is milder and occurs more often than bacterial meningitis. It usually develops in the late summer and early fall, often affects children and adults under 30. Seventy percent of the infections occur in children under the age of 5. Most viral meningitis is associated with enteroviruses, which are viruses that commonly cause intestinal illness. Symptoms Fever and chills Severe headache Nausea and vomiting Stiff neck (meningismus) Sensitivity to light (photophobia) Mental status changes Treatment Antibiotics will be prescribed for bacterial meningitis; the type will vary depending on the infecting organism. Antibiotics are not effective in viral meningitis. Treatment of secondary symptoms including brain swelling, shock, and seizures will require other medications and intravenous fluids. Hospitalization may be required depending on the severity of the illness and the needed treatment. Expectations (prognosis) Early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis is essential to prevent permanent neurological damage. Viral meningitis is usually not serious, and symptoms should disappear within 2 weeks with no residual complications. Calling your health care provider If you feel that you or your child have symptoms suggestive of meningitis, you must seek emergency medical help immediately. Early treatment is key to a good outcome. Prevention Haemophilus vaccine (HiB vaccine) in children will help prevent one type of meningitis. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is now a routine childhood immunization and is very effective at preventing pneumococcal meningitis. It is highly recommended that household contacts and people with close contact with individuals with meningococcal meningitis receive preventative antibiotics to avoid becoming infected themselves. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College Health Association encourage college students (particularly freshmen living in dormitories) to consider being vaccinated with the meningococcal vaccine. Update Date: 11/9/2005 Updated by: Kenneth Wener, M.D., Division of Infectious Diseases, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. The Summit County Health Department currently has Free Meningococcal Vaccine available to students 11 years and older. Supplies are limited. Meningococcal disease is a serious illness, caused by bacteria. It is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2 through 18 years old in the United States. Meningitis is an infection of fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections. Summit County Health Department Immunization Clinic hours are 9 – 11 and 1 – 4 every Wednesday, or call 615-3910 to set up an appointment.