What is Bacterial Meningitis? Here’s How it Differs From Other Types of the Disease

In the United States, most college students are required to get a bacterial meningitis vaccine prior to attending school. This is to ensure that the disease doesn’t cultivate or spread in the close living conditions and shared bathrooms of dormitories. The disease can be incredibly dangerous, and every once in a while, a case of the it pops up, prompting swift action from health officials. Here’s exactly what it is, how to prevent it, and why it’s one of the most dangerous types.

Empty emergency room in a hospital

Bacterial meningitis can be extremely serious if left untreated. | Antonio_Diaz/Getty Images

There are five different types of meningitis

There are five types of meningitis you may catch — but some are rarer than others.

Viral meningitis: This is one of the more common types of meningitis. Certain viruses, such as measles or chicken pox, can lead to the disease. It’s typically less severe than other types.

Fungal meningitis: Fungal meningitis is a very rare form of the disease and occurs when fungal spores get into your bloodstream. The spores are typically inhaled from soil or animal droppings, and it usually requires hospitalization.

Non-infectious meningitis: This is another rare form of meningitis, and it usually occurs from a disease such as lupus or cancer. It can lead to stiff neck, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

Bacterial meningitis: This is one of the more severe types of meningitis. It can cause brain damage, hearing loss, and can sometimes be fatal. It’s spread through kissing or sharing drinks.

Parasitic meningitis: This is the most severe form of meningitis, but it’s extremely rare. Its contracted through a parasite and leads to seizures, hallucinations, and eventually death. All 31 confirmed cases in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012 were fatal.

Bacterial meningitis can be extremely life threatening — and it’s easy to catch

Most colleges require a bacterial meningitis vaccination prior to student enrollment because the disease is spread so easily. Coughing, sneezing, kissing, or sharing drinks can spread the disease. Close living quarters, college parties, and more are easy ways for the disease to go from one person to another, so a vaccine is imperative to stay healthy.

When someone contracts bacterial meningitis, it affects their brain and spinal cord. A sudden fever, headache, or stiff neck are typically the first symptoms. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and confusion. A blood test usually confirms the disease, and antibiotics are given to treat it.

It may seem like a bad cold or the flu, but bacterial meningitis can be deadly

The problem with meningitis is many people don’t know which symptoms to look for. The common cold makes you feel achy, so a headache and stiff neck doesn’t always alert someone to meningitis. Light sensitivity, nausea, and confusion can also be attributed to a migraine, so people aren’t always quick to get help when symptoms show. However, early treatment is extremely important to make a full recovery. If bacterial meningitis isn’t treated properly, it can lead to seizures, hearing loss, and permanent brain damage, and a person may never fully recover. There are roughly 4,000 cases of bacterial meningitis each year in the U.S., and about 500 result in death.

The best way to prevent it is to get vaccinated and stop the spread of germs

Truthfully, the best way to prevent bacterial meningitis is through a vaccination and careful sanitization. The vaccination has very few side effects and can prevent you from getting the disease in the first place. Plus, always wash your hands before you eat, and avoid sharing drinks with others or kissing anyone who shows any symptoms. Living in close quarters, such as a college dorm, means disease spreads more easily. Avoid hosting get-togethers in your dorm room, and keep hand sanitizer in your backpack or pocket at all times.

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