Last Updated: 20 February 2023
Meningitis is a serious infection that causes inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can invade fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord and can cause swelling. Neisseria meningitidis is the bacteria that is responsible for invasive meningococcal disease. There are 12 serogroups of N. meningitidis of which 6 can cause epidemics. These are A, B, C, W, X and Y.
Meningitis has been reported worldwide, with the highest incidence of disease found in the ‘meningitis belt’ of sub-Saharan Africa.
Risk & Prevention
- Although meningitis affects all ages, young children are most at risk.
- People all over the world are at risk of meningitis. The highest burden of disease is seen in a region of sub-Saharan Africa, especially recognized to be at high risk of epidemics of meningococcal but also pneumococcal meningitis.
- Preventing meningitis through vaccination is the most effective way to reduce the burden and impact of the disease by delivering long-lasting protection.
Symptoms & Treatment
The bacteria that cause meningitis are transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers. Close and prolonged contact – such as kissing, sneezing, or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters with an infected person, facilitates the spread of the disease. The average incubation period is 4 days but can range between 2 and 10 days. Signs and symptoms can include:
- high fever
- severe headache
- stiff or painful neck
- drowsy/confused/comatose state
- joint pains
Initial diagnosis of meningitis is essential and can be made by clinical examination followed by a lumbar puncture to isolate the specific organism, so appropriate treatment can be administered. Appropriate antibiotic treatment must be started as soon as possible in bacterial meningitis based on the infective organism.
Information for UN Staff
- UN Medical Directors Risk Mitigation Plan for Invasive Meningococcal Disease (English / French)
- UN Public Health Guidance on the Management of Meningococcal Disease Outbreaks (English / French)
- WHO Meningitis FAQ's
- DHMOSH Medical Workforce Management Powerpoint presentation on Meningococcemia and Meningococcal Menigitis