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What causes meningitis?

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The two main causes of meningitis are viruses and bacteria. Common bacteria or viruses may cause infection in a part of the body -- the skin, gastrointestinal tract, or respiratory tract, for instance. They then may spread through the bloodstream to the nervous system. Bacteria can also enter the nervous system directly after severe head trauma or head surgery, or following an infection in the head.

Fungi, protozoa, and other parasites are less common causes of meningitis. In very rare cases, cancer, other diseases, or certain medications may also lead to inflammation of the meninges.

SOURCES:

Nemours Foundation: "Meningitis."

Meningitis Foundation of America: "Top 20 Questions About Meningitis."

NINDS: "Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet."

CDC: "Meningococcal Disease."

Reviewed by Dan Brennan on October 5, 2019

SOURCES:

Nemours Foundation: "Meningitis."

Meningitis Foundation of America: "Top 20 Questions About Meningitis."

NINDS: "Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet."

CDC: "Meningococcal Disease."

Reviewed by Dan Brennan on October 5, 2019

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What is bacterial meningitis?

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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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