How Long Is Meningitis Contagious For?

Meningitis is a disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, specifically causing inflammation of the fluids and membranes (also known as the meninges) in these areas of the body, as per the Mayo Clinic. You might initially confuse symptoms of meningitis with those of the common flu, but specific signs to look out for include a stiff neck, seizures, nausea, vomiting that can accompany a severe headache, and a high fever. Most of these symptoms are caused by the swelling and inflammation associated with the illness.

While meningitis is an infection at its root, it can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites, explains WebMD. Viral meningitis is the least serious of the bunch and, luckily, is the one most people catch. Bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, requires immediate medical attention as it can be life-threatening. Fungal and parasitic meningitis are both extremely rare. In any of the above cases, a doctor will be able to perform tests to identify the disease and its cause. These can range from a blood test to a spinal tap.

Luckily, there is a vaccine available to protect against bacterial meningitis, in particular, points out Healthline. But if you don't get the vaccine or you happen to catch a different type of meningitis, you may be wondering how long the illness is contagious to avoid passing it on to those around you.

The period of contagiousness depends on the type of meningitis

In order to determine how long you will remain contagious, you'll need to know which type of meningitis you have, explains MedicineNet. Bacterial meningitis is contagious for around one to two weeks following infection while viral meningitis has a contagious period of three to 10 days. Both fungal and parasitic meningitis are not contagious.

It's also important to note how bacterial and viral meningitis spread to others in order to avoid infecting those around you during the contagious period. Viral meningitis is carried in the droplets of an infected individual, whether it be from a sneeze or cough (via Healthline). It is also present in feces and saliva. Since viral meningitis doesn't have to necessarily spread through direct contact, it can be left on surfaces or spread through the air and picked up by others. On the other hand, bacterial meningitis is spread to others via prolonged contact with an infected person. The most common places to come in contact with someone include daycare centers and hospitals.

If you're worried about spreading or catching meningitis, Everyday Health provides some great tips for preventing the disease. In addition to getting vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, you can avoid sharing food and drinks while also making sure you stay away from sick individuals, or isolating yourself if you're the sick one. Lastly, wash your hands regularly and seek out immediate medical care if you suspect you've come into contact with the disease.