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Is meningitis contagious? How can I prevent meningitis infection?

Meningitis is relatively rare, but can be a life-threatening medical emergency as symptoms of meningitis can develop rapidly.

The main group at risk of meningitis is under 5s, including babies and toddlers. The next group is university students, especially those in halls of residence.

Teenagers are two and a half times more likely than adults to carry meningitis-causing bacteria in the back of their throats.

Meningitis can affect people of any age, gender, age, ethnic background or class.

Over 55s are another at-risk group, as the immune system weakens as people get older.

Is meningitis contagious?

Meningitis is contagious. Prolonged close contact can spread the bacteria that cause meningitis.

The bacteria can be spread through kissing, coughs and sneezes, shared cutlery, or sharing items like toothbrushes or cigarettes.

Most over 25s will have some natural immunity to the meningococcal strain of bacteria that causes some types of meningitis.

Outbreaks can occur where many young people live close to each other. These include universities, student housing, boarding schools, and military bases.

How can I prevent meningitis infection?

Protection against meningitis B and C, and against Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) and pneumococcus, is part of routine childhood vaccinations. Protection against meningitis ACWY is offered to teenagers and new university students. 

People planning trip to parts of the world where meningitis is very common should seek medical advice about getting a travel jab for meningitis.

Crowded conditions at religious gatherings such as the Hajj also put people at an increased risk of contracting meningitis.

In addition to vaccinations, you should follow some common sense precautions to help prevent meningitis.

Be careful around people who have meningitis. It is possible to catch some types of meningitis through contact with bodily fluids, so it might be spread by kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing utensils or toothbrushes. If somebody in your family has it, try to limit his or her contact with other family members.

Wash your hands after contact with someone who has meningitis.

If you come into close contact with someone with meningitis, seek medical advice. Depending on the extent of your exposure and the type of meningitis, you may be advised by your doctor to take an antibiotic as a precaution.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 20, 2017

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