Meningitis Causes: What Your Doctor May Not Be Telling You

Meningitis is an infection that may make you reconsider sharing that food or drinks with other people. It affects people of any age and can spread through physical contact, kissing or living too close to different people.

Meningitis affects the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, called meninges. Many people who contract the infection report feeling tired, fever and headache. 

Since it affects the lining of the brain and spinal cord, the infection may also cause a stiff neck due to swelling. People commonly develop meningitis due to exposure to bacteria or virus.

In the U.S., viral meningitis is the most common form of the disease affecting Americans. It is less severe than meningitis caused by bacteria, which could lead to potentially deadly complications. 

People commonly contract viral meningitis in the U.S. from non-polio enteroviruses. But in some cases, patients get the infection from viruses that cause mumps, herpes and chickenpox, measles, flu and mosquito-transmitted arboviruses, Live Science reported Wednesday.

There are also small cases of bacterial meningitis in the country, according to Paul Sax, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The infection affects nearly 3,000 Americans every year, mainly children, college students and older adults.

People could also develop meningitis because of fungus, a parasite, amoeba, cancer or head injuries. 

Bacterial Meningitis In U.S.

This deadly form of meningitis spreads through contact with an infected person's respiratory or throat secretions. The bacteria travels through coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing food, drinks and eating utensils. 

There are four common bacteria species that cause meningitis. The most serious form of the disease, called pneumococcal meningitis, is caused by streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.

Neisseria meningitidis causes meningococcal disease. It lives in people's noses and throats and can spread rapidly in close settings, like schools, making it a very contagious infection. 

Haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria targets children under age 5. Another species that affect young children is listeria monocytogenes. 

But listeria also causes meningitis in pregnant women, adults over age 60 and people with weak immune systems.

How To Prevent Meningitis

Sax said there are vaccines already available to prevent the most common causes of bacterial meningitis. One of these vaccines, called the H. influenzae type b vaccine (Hib), almost completely eliminated such form of meningitis in children in the U.S.

The Boston Children's Hospital said the other meningitis vaccines that have been proven effective are the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for all children younger than age 2, the meningococcal conjugate vaccine for kids ages 11 to 12 and college students and the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine 23-valent both for children and adults. 

Kissing Couple Kissing and sharing food could increase people's risk of contracting the potentially deadly meningitis. Pixabay