How meningitis spreads
Bacterial meningitis spreads primarily through the sharing of respiratory or throat secretions, i.e., saliva or spit. Coughing or sneezing, sharing utensils, kissing, and other types of close physical contact can spread the germs from person to person.
Those at increased risk of getting sick through close contact include:
- people who live in the same household,
- roommates, and
- anyone in direct contact with a patient’s oral secretions (ex. a romantic partner).
Viral meningitis can also spread from close contact, but it is not likely that a close contact will develop meningitis themselves.
Meningitis does not spread through casual contact or when breathing air where someone carrying germs has been.
How to prevent illness
People may carry germs that cause meningitis without realizing it—these people are called “carriers.” Because it is difficult if not impossible to stop the transmission of germs, especially among children, it is important to take preventative measures.
Making sure you and your child are vaccinated on schedule is the most effective way of protecting against certain strains of bacterial meningitis.
Antibiotics are another effective way of preventing serious illness in close contacts of a person with meningococcal bacteria.
Currently, there are no preventions for viral meningitis, but most people who are infected usually recover completely within five to 10 days.
In addition to vaccines and antibiotics, there are several actions you can take in your everyday life that minimize the spread of harmful bacteria:
- Wash your hands often with soap and hot water. (Hand sanitizer is also okay if soap is not available.)
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with others who are ill.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. (Use a tissue if available, but using your arm or sleeve is acceptable.)