Viral meningitis is the most common form of the illness, but you can also get meningitis from bacteria or fungus. Viral meningitis is the most contagious of the three forms and is usually caused by an enterovirus. These viruses are spread by contact with the fecal matter of an infected person, such as by using the bathroom or changing the diaper of someone who has the illness. You can also get viral meningitis by coming into contact with the respiratory secretions--nasal mucous, saliva and sputum--of someone with the virus.
Other forms of meningitis are not as contagious as the viral form. In fact, fungal meningitis cannot be spread from person to person. Bacterial meningitis is contagious and can be spread through respiratory and throat secretions, but the bacteria that causes the infection is not as contagious as those that cause other illnesses and is not as much of a threat to others.
The best way to prevent contracting viral meningitis is to practice good hygiene and keep from contact with people who have the infection. The most important step in good hygiene is to frequently and thoroughly wash your hands and to teach your kids how to properly wash their hands. Be sure to vigorously scrub both the fronts and backs of your hands with warm, soapy water. Also, avoid sharing eating utensils, glasses or cups and makeup such as lipstick with people who may be infected. Vaccines are available to prevent bacterial meningitis and are included in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's routine immunization schedule. The best way to prevent bacterial meningitis is to make sure your immunizations are current.
The hallmark symptoms of all forms of meningitis are a high fever, a stiff neck and a severe headache. Other common symptoms include nausea and vomiting, mental confusion, seizures, a rash, light sensitivity, sleepiness or difficulty waking. In babies, symptoms often present differently. Common symptoms in babies include excessive fussiness, constant crying, a bulging soft spot and no interest in eating.
If you have symptoms of meningitis it is important to get immediate medical attention. The illness can cause serious complications such as brain damage and even death. Although viral meningitis is often not as serious as the bacterial form, it is impossible to know what type of the illness you have without medical testing.
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