Meningitis and meningococcal disease differences, causes, and treatment

Meningitis and meningococcal disease differences, causes, and treatmentMeningitis and meningococcal disease are both caused by Neisseria meningitides. But although their causes are similar, there are still vast differences between the two conditions that are important to note for treatment options.

Meningitis is caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes – known as meninges – covering the spinal cord and the brain. Neisseria meningitides can cause this inflammation to occur, but meningitis can also be initiated by physical trauma, cancer, or medications.


Meningococcal disease is caused by Neisseria meningitides too and is the severe infection of the lining of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain, along with bloodstream infection.

Meningitis and meningococcal disease transmission and causes

There are different types of meningitis based on its cause, including bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, and non-infectious meningitis. Bacterial causes stem from Neisseria meningitides or Streptococcus pneumoniae. Viral meningitis can be caused by Herpes simplex virus and is typically less severe than bacterial meningitis. Fungal causes are Crytococcus and Histoplasma, which can be inhaled, while parasitic meningitis normally occurs in developing countries and is caused by Angiostrongylus cantonensis. Lastly, non-infectious meningitis can be caused by cancer, lupus, certain drugs, head trauma, or even brain surgery.

Meningococcal disease stems primarily from one of the five strains of Neisseria meningitides, including A, B, C, W, and Y.

Meningococcal disease is spread person-to-person. The bacteria are transmitted through the sharing and exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (kissing, coughing, etc.). Living in close quarters with a person who has meningococcal disease also increases your risk of developing it. The bacterium does not spread as quickly as a cold or flu, but only after a prolonged period of time being in close proximity to someone who has it.

Meningitis and meningococcal disease prevention and treatment

Meningitis and meningococcal disease differences, causes, and treatmentThere are vaccines available to protect against strains B, C, and Y, as they are the most common within the U.S. Therefore, the first step to prevent meningitis and meningococcal disease is to receive the vaccine.

Antibiotics are used to treat these diseases. Knowing the signs and symptoms of these conditions can help you see a doctor immediately and begin treatment right away. If you live closely to someone who has either disease, it may be wise to begin the antibiotics as a means of prevention even if you do not experience any symptoms. Furthermore, if you do have the disease, reduce close contact with those around you, including loved ones and spouses, to avoid passing it on to them.

Typically, meningitis is diagnosed with the presence of a fever, stiff neck, increase in heart rate, and reduction in consciousness. Your doctor will perform a lumbar puncture and test the spinal fluid. Other tests include blood cultures, complete blood count, chest x-rays, and a CT scan to rule out any problems in the brain.

Treatment of meningitis includes targeting the cause, either being bacteria, or a virus, parasite, fungus, physical trauma, cancer, etc.

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