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What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the covering of the brain and spinal cord---also called the meninges. It can be caused by viruses, parasites, fungi, and bacteria. Viral (aseptic) meningitis is common; most people recover fully. Medical management of viral meningitis consists of supportive treatment and there is usually no indication for the use of antibiotics. Parasitic and fungal meningitis are very rare. Bacterial meningitis is very serious and may involve complicated medical, surgical, pharmaceutical, and life support management.
There are two common types of bacteria that cause meningitis:
Strep pneumoniae causes pneumococcal meningitis; there are over 80 subtypes that cause illness
Neisseria meningitidis-meningococcal meningitis; there are 5 subtypes that cause serious illness-A, B, C, Y, W-135

What are the symptoms?

Someone with meningitis will become very ill. The illness may develop over one or two days, but it can also rapidly progress in a matter of hours. Not everyone with meningitis will have the same symptoms.

  • Children (over 1 year old) and adults with meningitis may have:
    • Severe headache
    • High temperature
    • Vomiting
    • Sensitivity to bright lights
    • Neck stiffness, joint pains
    • Drowsiness or confusion

*In both children and adults, there may be a rash of tiny, red-purple spots or bruises caused by bleeding under the skin. These can occur anywhere on the body. They are a sign of blood poisoning (septicemia), which sometimes happens with meningitis, particularly the meningococcal strain.

How serious is bacterial meningitis?

If it is diagnosed early and treated promptly, the majority of people make a complete recovery. In some cases it can be fatal or a person may be left with a permanent disability, such as deafness, blindness, amputations or brain damage (resulting in mental retardation or paralysis) even with prompt treatment.

How is bacterial meningitis spread?

Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as diseases like the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been. The germs live naturally in the back of our noses and throats, but they do not live for long outside the body. They are spread when people exchange saliva (such as by kissing; sharing drinking containers, utensils, or cigarettes).

The germ does not cause meningitis in most people. Instead, most people become carriers of the germ for days, weeks or even months. Being a carrier helps to stimulate your body's natural defense system.

The bacteria rarely overcomes the body's immune system and causes meningitis or another serious illness.

What is the risk of getting bacterial meningitis?

The risk of getting bacterial meningitis in all age groups is about 2.4 cases per 100,000 population per year. However, the highest risk group for the most serious form of the disease, meningococcal meningitis, is highest among children 2 to 18 years old.

How is bacterial meningitis diagnosed?

The diagnosis is usually based on a combination of clinical symptoms and laboratory results from spinal fluid and blood. Spinal fluid is obtained by a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

How can bacterial meningitis be prevented?

Do not share food, drinks, utensils, toothbrushes, or cigarettes. Limit the number of persons you kiss.

Vaccines against pneumococcal disease are recommended both for young children and adults over 64. A vaccine against four meningococcal serogroups (A, C, Y, W-135) is available. These four groups cause the majority of meningococcal cases in the United States. This vaccine is recommended by some groups for college students, particularly freshmen living in dorms or residence halls. The vaccine is safe and effective (85-90%). It can cause mild side effects, such as redness and pain at the injection site lasting up to two days. Immunity develops within 7 to 10 days after the vaccine is given and lasts for up to 5 years.

What you should do if you think you or a friend might have bacterial meningitis?

Seek prompt medical attention.

For more information contact your school nurse, family doctor and the staff at your local or regional health department office are excellent sources for information on all communicable diseases. You may also call your local health department or Regional Texas Department of Health office to ask about meningococcal vaccine. 



To protect all children from communicable illnesses, students infected with certain diseases are not allowed to attend school while they are contagious. Students should be symptom-free before returning to school.  This includes being free of fever, vomiting, or diarrhea for 24 hours without the use of medications.

Other sources of information:

  • Your family doctor


Clean Hands - A Critical Issue
Protect yourself and your children from infection. Use the hand hygiene guidelines below, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent or reduce the rate of infection. These simple guidelines can be easily adapted to the school environment and carried through in the home environment.

Recommended Hand Hygiene Techniques

  • Alcohol-based hand rubs/gels - Application is the key. Apply to palm of one hand. Rub hands together covering all surfaces until dry. The volume used is based on the manufacturer. Let it dry!
  • Hand-washing - Wet hands with water, apply soap, and rub hands together for at least 15 seconds. Rinse and dry with disposable towel. Use towel to turn off the faucet.

Hand hygiene for yourself and your children should occur:

  • Upon arrival at school
  • Immediately before and after eating
  • After using the toilet
  • After contacting any body fluids, including wet or soiled diapers, runny noses, spit, or vomit
  • After handling pets, pet cages, or other pet objects
  • Whenever hands are visibly dirty or after cleaning
  • After removing gloves used for any purpose
  • Before giving or applying medication or ointment
  • Before going home

The CDC has developed and is promoting hand hygiene guidelines (hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand rubs) to terminate outbreaks in health care facilities, to reduce transmission of antimicrobial-resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and to reduce overall infection rates

Hand washing with soap and water remains a sensible strategy for hand hygiene. However, most people wash their hands for limited time periods, and often fail to cover all surfaces of their hands and fingers. If done incorrectly, hand washing has little or no effect.

Current scientific findings by the CDC indicate that alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of microorganisms on the skin. These alcohol-based products are more effective than soap or antimicrobial soaps. They are fast-acting and cause less skin irritation. Products such as instant hand sanitizers with alcohol solutions containing 60%-95% alcohol are most effective. Using higher concentrations was found to be less potent. Commonly purchased over the counter products usually have a 62% ethyl alcohol active ingredient.

Alcohol-based products are not appropriate for use when hands are visibly dirty or contaminated with proteinaceous materials (e.g., blood). However, when relatively small amounts are present, ethanol and isopropanol may reduce viable bacterial counts on hands more than plain soap or antimicrobial soap.

Washing hands with soap and water after each use of an alcohol-based hand rub is not necessary and is not recommended because it may lead to dermatitis. However, because you may feel a build-up on your hands after repeated use of alcohol-based hand rubs, washing hands with soap and water after 5-10 applications has been recommended by certain manufacturers.

Head lice have become more and more of a problem over the last few years. Control of head lice depends on prompt diagnosis and effective treatment. Your help in inspecting your child at least weekly throughout the school year for the presence of head lice would be greatly appreciated. 

We suggest the following procedure for inspecting your child for head lice: 

  1. Under bright light begin looking at the back of the head just above the neck area. 
  2. Part the hair section by section and look closely for head lice or nits (eggs). Eggs will usually be located near the scalp. 
  3. Depending on the length and thickness of the hair, it should take between 5 and 15 minutes to properly inspect a child's head. 

If you suspect your child is infested with head lice, please notify the school nurse. In addition, the entire family should be inspected for head lice as well. For information on how to treat your child's head lice infestation consult your family physician, a local pharmacist, or feel free to contact your child's school nurse for recommendations.  

When live bugs are found on a child’s head at school, the child will be removed from class and the parent will be notified to come get the child for treatment.  Students must be checked by the school nurse before returning to class.  

Students who have evidence of head lice for three consecutive days or live lice greater than two times within 3 months will require additional action to return to school. A separate letter will be sent in those situations.