Student Health Info


What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.

People of any age can get meningitis, but because it can spread easily among those living in close quarters, teens, college students, and boarding-school students are at higher risk for infection.

If dealt with quickly, meningitis can be treated successfully. So it's important to get routine vaccinations, know the signs of meningitis, and get medical care right away if you think that your child has the illness.

What Causes Meningitis?

Most cases are caused by bacteria or viruses, but some can be due to certain medicines or illnesses.

Many of the bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis are fairly common and cause other routine illnesses. Both kinds of meningitis spread like most other common infections do — someone who's infected touches, kisses, or coughs or sneezes on someone who isn't infected.

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is rare, but is usually serious and can be life-threatening if not treated right away.

In some cases of bacterial meningitis, the bacteria spread to the meninges from a severe head trauma or a severe local infection, such as a serious ear infection (otitis media) or nasal sinus infection (sinusitis).

Many different types of bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis. In newborns, the most common causes are group B strep, E. coli, and less commonly, Listeria monocytogenes. In older kids, Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) and Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) are often the causes.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis (also called aseptic meningitis) is more common than bacterial meningitis and usually less serious.

Many of the viruses that cause meningitis are common, such as those that cause colds, diarrhea, cold sores, and the flu.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Meningitis?

Meningitis symptoms vary, depending on the person's age and the cause of the infection. The first symptoms can come on quickly or start several days after someone has had a cold, diarrhea, vomiting, or other signs of an infection.

Common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • lack of energy
  • irritability
  • headache
  • sensitivity to light
  • stiff neck
  • skin rash

Meningitis in Infants

Infants with meningitis might have different symptoms. Babies might be cranky, feed poorly, and be sleepy or hard to wake up. It may be hard to comfort them, even when they're picked up and rocked. They also may have a fever or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on head).

Other symptoms of meningitis in babies can include:

  • jaundice (a yellowish tint to the skin)
  • stiffness of the body and neck
  • a lower-than-normal temperature
  • a weak suck
  • a high-pitched cry

How Is Meningitis Diagnosed?

Bacterial meningitis can be very serious. So if you see symptoms or think that your child could have meningitis, it's important to see the doctor right away.

If meningitis is suspected, the doctor will order tests, probably including a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to collect a sample of spinal fluid. This test will show any signs of inflammation and whether the infection is due to a virus or bacteria.

How Is Meningitis Treated?

Most cases of viral meningitis end within 7 to 10 days. Some people might need to be treated in the hospital, although kids usually can recover at home if they're not too ill. Treatment to ease symptoms includes rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain medicine.

If bacterial meningitis is diagnosed — or even suspected — doctors will start intravenous (IV) antibiotics as soon as possible. Fluids may be given to replace those lost to fever, sweating, vomiting, and poor appetite.

What Problems Can Happen?

Complications of bacterial meningitis might need extra treatment. Someone with shock or low blood pressure might get more IV fluids and medicines to increase blood pressure. Some kids may need extra oxygen or mechanical ventilation if they have trouble breathing.

Bacterial meningitis complications can be severe and include neurological problems, such as hearing loss, visual impairment, seizures, and learning disabilities. Because impaired hearing is a common complication, those who've had bacterial meningitis should have a hearing test after they recover.

The heart, kidneys, and adrenal glands also might be affected, depending on the cause of the infection. Although some kids develop long-lasting neurological problems, most who get a quick diagnosis and treatment recover fully.

Can Meningitis Be Prevented?


Routine immunization can go a long way toward preventing meningitis. The Hib, measles, mumps, polio, and pneumococcal vaccines can protect against meningitis caused by those germs.

Kids also should get the meningococcal conjugate vaccine when they're 11 or 12 years old, with a booster shot at age 16. Kids older than 11 who haven't been vaccinated also should be immunized, particularly if they're going to college, boarding school, camp, or other settings where they'll live in close quarters with others.

Kids 2 months to 11 years old are at higher risk for infection should get the meningococcal conjugate, including those who:

  • live in or travel to countries where infection is common
  • have certain immune disorders
  • are present during an outbreak

A newer type of meningococcal vaccine called MenB (which protects against a type of meningococcal bacterium not covered by the older vaccine) can be given to teens and young adults at the discretion of their doctor. Kids 10 and older at high risk for infection should get the MenB vaccine.

Avoiding Germs

Kids and adults should wash their hands well and often, particularly before eating and after using the bathroom, and if they work closely with kids (as in a daycare). Avoid close contact with someone who's obviously ill and don't share food, drinks, or eating utensils.

In some cases, doctors may give antibiotics to anyone who has been in close contact with a person who has bacterial meningitis to help prevent infection.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Get medical care right away if you think that your child has meningitis or you see symptoms such as vomiting, headache, tiredness or confusion, neck stiffness, rash, and fever. A baby who has a fever, is irritable, and isn't feeding well also should be seen right away by a doctor.

If your child has been near someone who has meningitis, call your doctor to ask whether preventive medicine is recommended.

Date reviewed: January 2019
HPV Vaccination
Flu Guide for Parents

Safe Surrender (Surrender Newborns Safely)

North Carolina’s Safe Surrender Law allows a parent to surrender a newborn up to seven days old to a responsible adult without the parent providing his or her name. Safe Surrender is legal and aims to prevent newborns from being hurt or abandoned.

Why is the Safe Surrender Law Necessary?

The law, passed in 2001, is intended to prevent newborn abandonment and homicide. The risk of homicide on the first day of life is 10 times greater than any other time in a person’s life. The law provides parents in crisis who feel they have no other choice a way to surrender their baby safely without providing the parents’ name.

How to Safely Surrender Your Newborn

Do your best to make sure that the baby is healthy, warm and clean. Then find a responsible adult who will assist you with the surrender of your newborn.

Your best options for a Safe Surrender contact include:

  • Health care provider
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Social services worker
  • Emergency medical personnel

Do Not Leave the Baby Somewhere and Hope that Someone Will Find the Baby

Many states have Safe Haven laws. These designate places where a baby may be surrendered. North Carolina's law is different because it designates people, not places. Safe Surrender is not abandoning a baby on a doorstep. You must hand the baby over to a person.

It would be helpful to your baby and the adopting family if you make some health and family history information available when you surrender the baby, even if you don’t give your name. A surrendering parent can provide the information to the adult accepting the baby, or the information can be sent confidentially to the local county Department of Social Services.

Do Non-Surrendering Parents Have the Right to Reclaim a Surrendered Newborn?

Any parent who hears of a surrendered infant and believes it may be theirs should come forward. Before a child can be adopted in North Carolina, an effort must be made to find the non-surrendering parent to request permission or allow the non-surrendering parent to take the child.

If You or the Newborn Needs Medical Attention, Get it Right Away

Having a baby without any medical help can lead to serious complications for you or the baby. It's better to seek help than to risk serious health consequences.

If you have any of the following symptoms, seek medical care:

  • Vaginal bleeding that doesn't slow down when you rest
  • A bad smell to vaginal blood
  • A fever of 101 or above
  • Pain in the abdomen or vaginal area
  • Severe headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • A feeling of burning when you urinate

Other Options

Arranging for the adoption of your child to a safe and loving home through your local Department of Social Services or a licensed adoption agency is another option, and if you choose, your identity can be kept confidential.

Adoption is when a child is legally moved from one family to another. All legal rights of the birth parents are transferred to the adoptive parents and the child is raised as their child.

If you are pregnant and unable, unwilling or unsure about parenting, you can make an adoption plan for the child before or after they are born by reaching out to an adoption agency or your local county Department of Social Services. Reaching out for information is not a commitment to placing your baby in adoption.

Making an adoption plan for your child can be very flexible. You can choose not to be involved in the decision-making process, or you can be involved in picking the adoptive parents and potentially maintain some level of contact with the child once they are born. Making an adoption plan also means you can receive counseling and support about your decision to place your child for adoption.

If you make an adoption plan for your baby, it is not a safe surrender. You will sign over or relinquish your parental rights to the child. If you are under the age of 18, you can make an adoption plan for your child, and sign the legal documents to place your child for adoption without your parent or caregiver’s approval.

To make an adoption plan for your baby, contact a licensed adoption agency or your local Department of Social Services.

If you are pregnant, you may be eligible for Medicaid, a type of insurance that can provide comprehensive health care to you from the beginning of pregnancy and for a period of time following birth. Infants born to Medicaid-eligible women continue to be eligible for health care until their first birthday. You also may be eligible for other types of financial assistance.

More Information

For more information about the Safe Surrender Law or if you are pregnant or parenting a newborn and would like to learn about help and services available for someone who may feel unable to care for a newborn, please contact your local Department of Social Services.

If there is an emergency, please call 911.


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