Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

What causes meningitis?

Meningitis is usually caused by an infection, most commonly viruses or bacteria. Occasionally it’s caused by parasites or fungi.

This infection are spread from person to person by close contact such as coughing, sneezing or kissing. Occasionally they can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces or personal items.

The infection that cause meningitis may spread more easily in places that are overcrowded or smoky.

Viral meningitis usually causes a mild form of meningitis and it most commonly affects children. Viral meningitis is usually caused by enteroviruses, which live in fluids in the mouth and nose, and in faecal matter.

Bacterial meningitis is usually more severe. It’s caused mainly by Meningococcus or Pneumococcus bacteria. These bacteria live in the nose and throat and are usually harmless. But they can enter the blood stream and spread to the membrane surrounding the brain, causing meningitis. Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency. It can kill within hours, so early diagnosis and treatment is vital.

Immunisation is important

Mumps, measles, chicken pox and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) were once major causes of meningitis, but these diseases are now rare due to immunisation.

Several of the bacteria that cause meningitis can be largely prevented by the routine childhood immunisations so staying up to date with childhood vaccinations is the best way to prevent meningitis.

Vaccines are also available against some of the bacteria that cause meningitis, such as some types of Meningococcus and some types of Pneumococcus. These are recommended for people at higher than average risk of developing the infections.

More information on the Australian Immunisation Schedule is available from the Immunise Australia Program, or you can speak to your doctor.

Last reviewed: November 2016

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 219 results

Viral meningitis | Public Health

Read more on Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services website

Meningitis

Meningitis Category: Brain, Spinal Cord and Nerve Health Topic: Brain Infections and Parasites Send by email View as PDF Send by post The brain is covered by thin tissues called 'meninges'

Read more on Queensland Health website

Meningitis

Meningitis can cause death and requires urgent medical attention.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Amoebic meningitis

Amoebic meningitis is a disease that causes inflammation and eventual destruction of the brain and brain linings. It is rare but usually fatal.

Read more on WA Health website

Brain Foundation | Meningitis

Meningitis Meningitis Read More at Virtual Medical Centre Description Meningitis is a rare but serious infection of the membranes (meninges) that cover the brain and spinal cord

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis is an infection of the membranes (linings) that cover the brain and spinal cord. A variety of viruses can cause meningitis, including those that cause gastroenteritis, measles, mumps, chicken pox and herpes.

Read more on WA Health website

Meningitis in children - myDr.com.au

Meningitis means inflammation of the meninges - the lining around the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection.

Read more on myDr website

Meningitis - myDr.com.au

Meningitis: what is it, what causes it and what are the symptoms? Find out all you need to know, plus risk factors, treatment and prevention.

Read more on myDr website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Meningitis

Meningitis is an infection around the brain and spinal cord (meninges). It can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites (amoeba).

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Meningitis in babies and children | Raising Children Network

Meningitis is an emergency. Symptoms include headache, sore neck and sensitivity to light. If you think your child has meningitis, go straight to hospital.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback