What is spinal meningitis?

Spinal meningitis, or meningitis, is a condition in which the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. It is also known as bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis, or meningococcal meningitis. The most common cause of meningitis is a viral infection, however, it may also be caused by fungal and bacterial infections. Meningitis is a serious medical condition that can be life-threatening. Less than 1 in 100,000 people in the United States are infected with bacterial meningitis every year.


The signs and symptoms of meningitis may begin within a few hours or may appear within a couple of days. Once a person has been infected with meningitis, they usually begin to see symptoms such as a severe headache, a stiff neck, or fatigue. Sometimes people may not have a stiff neck though.

When meningitis is caused by a viral infection, it is less severe than when caused by a bacterial infection. Viral meningitis usually gets betters within a few weeks. On the other hand, bacterial meningitis is much more severe and requires immediate medical attention and treatment with antibiotics. If bacterial meningitis goes untreated, it can be fatal.

The initial signs and symptoms of meningitis may seem similar to the signs and symptoms of the flu. Therefore, it is important to be able to distinguish between the two and seek medical attention in either case. The signs and symptoms that may appear in anyone older than age of two include sudden high fever, severe headache that isn't easily confused with other types of headache, stiff neck, vomiting or nausea with headache, confusion or difficulty concentrating, seizures, sleepiness or difficulty waking up, sensitivity to light, lack of interest in drinking and eating, or a skin rash (only with meningococcal meningitis).

Children younger than two years old may not have the same signs and symptoms such as a headache and stiff neck. This age group usually experiences symptoms such as high fever, constant crying, excessive sleepiness or irritability, inactivity or sluggishness, poor feeding, a bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby's head, or stiffness in a baby's body and neck.

The risk factor for developing meningitis include not being properly vaccinated or skipping vaccinations, being younger than five (higher risk for viral meningitis) or younger than 20 (higher risk for bacterial meningitis), living in a community setting such as a dormitory, being pregnant, or having a weakened immune system.