Meningitis is a disease that should not be taken lightly. Because of the potential complications and pain this disease brings, it’s normal to wonder: Is meningitis contagious?
Technically, the answer is both yes and no — how contagious a case of meningitis is actually depends on the type of meningitis that a patient has. Here is a breakdown on the types of meningitis that can be transmitted from one person to another, as well as the types that are not contagious.
Take Necessary Precautions for These Contagious Types of Meningitis
There are two types of meningitis that are contagious: viral and bacterial meningitis. Viral meningitis is contagious because the viruses responsible for the illness could be transmitted from one person to another, or through contact with an infected surface.1
Furthermore, Enteroviruses that are responsible for most cases of viral meningitis are actually present in feces, mucus and/or saliva of infected people. What this means is that touching or having close contact with any of these secretions could trigger a case of viral meningitis.2
If you live in an area with a temperate climate and it’s either summer or autumn at the moment, be prepared. A 2008 report published in the British Medical Journal noted that the virus usually spreads during this period. However, if you live in an area with tropical or subtropical climate, infection rates are high all year long.3
Those people who are most prone to acquire this illness are children younger than 5 years old and adults with a weak immune system, especially if they have underlying conditions, are taking certain medications or are recovering from recent surgeries and transplants.4
Just like viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis is contagious, especially when there are instances of prolonged physical contact with an infected person. However, if you’re just near an infected person without close contact, you likely won’t be affected with bacterial meningitis.5
The bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis is typically found in the saliva and mucus of an infected person. As a result, the bacteria could then be spread via:6
- Sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses/cups
- Coughing or sneezing
Eating food contaminated with bacteria or having meningitis-causing bacteria in your throat or nose could also raise your risk of having bacterial meningitis.
Areas such as daycare centers, schools and college dormitories are places where high amounts of bacterial meningitis cases have been recorded.7 Meanwhile, people who have a higher risk of bacterial meningitis include infants younger than 1 year old, people who are 16 to 21 years old, college students and adults with certain medical problems.8
Non-Contagious Types of Meningitis
On the other hand, there are three types of meningitis that aren’t considered to be contagious: fungal, parasitic and non-infectious meningitis.
Fungal meningitis often occurs when you inhale fungal spores in your environment, such as Cryptococcus, Histoplasma, Blastomyces and Coccidiodes.9 This leads to the spread of fungus through the blood to your spinal cord, making this disease non-contagious.10,11
Likewise, parasitic meningitis is not contagious. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get the disease by drinking contaminated water, but instead by ingesting or inhaling an item that contains an infectious form of the parasite.12,13,14 Meanwhile, non-infectious meningitis is not contagious15 because it’s usually caused by sicknesses like cancer or lupus, brain surgery, head injuries or certain medications, all of which are non-communicable ailments.16
Even if these types of meningitis are not contagious, this does not mean that you should be lax about them. If you have any of these diseases, consult a physician to learn the appropriate treatment that best fits your case. Meanwhile, if it’s someone you know has any of these diseases, try to advise them on what the best course of action is, including seeing a physician to help them recover quickly from the illness.
If you have an infectious form of meningitis, failure to take precautionary measures can cause a meningitis outbreak, especially in schools, colleges, prisons and other large populations where multiple cases caused by the same strain happen over a short period of time.17 Even worse, some meningitis cases can be deadly or may trigger life-threatening complications.18