Meningitis (Bacterial meningitis)

Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the protective layers surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meninges). Meningitis may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and even certain non-infectious conditions may result in meningitis.

In India, pneumonia and meningitis are the leading causes of deaths in children below 5 years of age, coming to 22% of related deaths by both the infections. It is reported that nearly 40–50% of meningitis is caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), which is a bacterium. Meningitis is an extremely serious illness that needs immediate medical help otherwise it may be life-threatening or lead to brain damage.

What the symptoms of Meningitis?

Symptoms are like flu and may develop immediately or over a few days. These symptoms are:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Inability to lower your chin to your chest due to a stiff neck.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sensitivity to light (Photophobia).
  • Confusion (altered mental status).
  • No feeling of hunger or thirst.
  • Skin rash (uncommon symptom)

People with bacterial meningitis may get seizures, go into a coma, and may even die. Hence, immediate medical attention should be sought with suspected diagnosis.

What are the causes of Meningitis?

The most common bacteria causing meningitis in India are as follows:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib),
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae, and
  • Neisseria meningitidis

Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli and Group B Streptococcus are some of the other bacteria-causing meningitis.

Different bacteria spread via different mechanisms. Mostly, bacteria like H. influenzae, M. tuberculosis, and S. pneumoniae are spread by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who breathe in the bacteria while another bacteria L. monocytogenes, can spread through food.

What are the risk factors of Meningitis?

Certain factors increase the chances of a person for getting bacterial meningitis. These are:

Age: People of any age can develop bacterial meningitis, but babies are at increased risk.

Presence of large groups: Infections and resulting diseases spread where large groups of people gather like college, etc.

Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions (HIV), medications, and surgical procedures put people at increased risk for meningitis.

Working with meningitis-causing pathogens: Microbiologists may be routinely exposed to meningitis-causing bacteria.

Traveling to a place of increased risk for meningococcal disease

How is Meningitis diagnosed?

Samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (fluid near the spinal cord) are collected and tested upon the doctor’s suspicion of meningitis.

How is Meningitis treated?

Bacterial meningitis is treated with a number of antibiotics. An IV (intravenous) antibiotic with a corticosteroid is given even before the results of the test to bring down the inflammation, brain swelling and seizures. Any infected sinuses may also be drained out by the doctor.

Can Meningitis be prevented and how?

However, maintaining good standards of hygiene may help prevent germs from spreading. These practices are:
  • Proper handwashing regularly or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Covering mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing
  • Discarding used tissues immediately and properly to avoid germs to spread
  • Taking care of food habits (especially pregnancy) – Reducing risk of a listeria infection by consuming cooked meat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) and avoiding cheeses made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Vaccinations – Most forms of bacterial meningitis are preventable with the following vaccinations:
    • Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib) – children starting at about 2 months of age, adults without spleen and who have AIDS or sickle cell disease
    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV15 or PCV20) – routine vaccination schedule for children younger than 2 years.
    • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) –
      • all adults older than 65;
      • for younger adults and children age 2 and
      • older who have weak immune systems or chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or sickle cell anemia; and
      • for anyone who doesn’t have a spleen.
    • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY): Single dose be given to children ages 11 to 12, with a booster shot given at age 16
    • Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (MenB): Adults and children 10 years and older who are at increased risk of meningococcal disease


  1. Jayaraman Y, Veeraraghavan B, Chethrapilly Purushothaman GK, Sukumar B, Kangusamy B, Nair Kapoor A, Gupta N, Mehendale SM; Hospital Based Sentinel Surveillance of Bacterial Meningitis (HBSSBM) Network Team. Burden of bacterial meningitis in India: Preliminary data from a hospital based sentinel surveillance network. PLoS One. 2018 May 16;13(5):e0197198.
  2. Meningitis. Mayo Clinic. January 2024.
  3. Bacterial Meningitis. CDC. January 2024.
  4. Bacterial Meningitis. Cleveland Clinic. January 2024.

Select your Location

Please select your nearest location from the list below