Something I was wondering about menengitis...

I recently used my cousin’s spoon to taste something (though I had hardly any lip contact with the spoon; only somewhat on the bottom), and that reminded me about menengitis. So I looked it up online, and there’s one thing that confuses me about it: can you or can you not get it from someone who doesn’t have it (or properly, doesn’t have any symptoms of it)? One resource I read made it sound like you could (it wouldn’t harm the first person, but would the second), but it wasn’t clear.


Well, you can’t catch it from someone who doesn’t have the bacteria (like this little sod) present in their systems, by which I mean;

Anyone who has a suspected meningitis infection needs;

As for how contagious it is;

However in relation to the OP’s question about asymptomatic carriers of the disease:

All types of the disease can be transmitted by direct contact between individuals through saliva and nasal secretions. Incidence is highest in the winter months, due to the greater frequency of upper respiratory tract infections, closer personal contacts, and lack of indoor ventilation. 5 The literature reports that between five and twenty percent of the general population carry the meningococcal bacteria in the nose and throat in a relatively harmless state.5,10,14 This means 500 million out of six billion people of the world are “carriers”. The rate is highest in adolescents and young adults.17 These carriers may harbor the bacteria for days or months, yet may never develop the disease. Carriage can aid in immunity in some individuals. In certain instances, however, the bacteria break through the body’s immune defenses and travel to the fluid around the brain, the blood stream, or both. They enter the bloodstream and travel to the meninges, inflaming them and causing meningitis or multiply uncontrollably in the bloodstream, releasing toxins causing blood poisoning or septicaemia. The fatality rate in this form of the disease is two to four percent, while it reaches twenty percent with septicaemia.5 The speed of the progression of blood poisoning can be frightening, which explains the higher fatality rate. During epidemics of bacterial meningitis, the carrier rate may reach 95%, yet less than 1% may ever develop the disease.

from here


Roughly 5%-10% of the population carries the meningococcal bacteria in the back of their nose and throat. The bacteria can be dormant in the carrier, but they can pass it to someone else. Bacterial meningitis is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (kissing, coughing, sneezing, and sharing a cup, utensil, lip gloss, or cigarette). The transfer of saliva must be direct because the bacteria can’t live outside of the mouth. People with weaker immune systems are at a greater risk of contracting bacterial meningitis.

from here

Hmm. Considering my cousin’s occupation and location (London) put her in potential contact with this sort of thing, this new info doesn’t sound good for me. :slight_smile:

Guess I’ll just have to watch and see…

“Meningitis” is not a single entity. It’s an inflammation of the lining of the central nervous system, and when it is caused by infectious organisms, it can be any one of a number of different types of organisms–bacterial, viral and amoebic, for instance.

You can acquire those organism from symptomatic individuals, asymptomatic individuals recovering from infection or about get an infection, or asymptomatic carriers. You can acquire infection from various fomites–items that keep the germs alive (a moist towel for some germs, for example). You can acquire infection from droplets large enough to keep germs alive, or from contaminated sources such as food and water that keep that particular germ alive.

In short, germs are everywhere and for the most part not worth worrying about. One of the most common (and serious) forms of bacterial meningitis–Meningococcal meningitis–has very high asymptomatic carrier states (perhaps as high as 50 % in some situations such as military recruits in close contact with one another). Half the guys can be shown to have mening in their nasopharynx but only a tiny minority get meningitis. In the end it’s your host defenses, and not exposure to germs, that keeps you healthy. Exposure to germs is unavoidable.

I will return to my bubble now.

Hmm. Your response suggests that it’s a lot easier to get meningitis than most sources suggest. I always thought all I had to do was not get anyone’s spit in my mouth (no kissing, no sharing stuff, no being around for a sneeze), and it’d be impossible to get. Always sounded so simple to me. Was I under a misapprehension?

Addition: I see from one of the above links that it can be transmitted through the air, which certainly tells me that the answer to my above question is “it’s actually pretty easy.” Why, then, is it not a lot more common?

It is not only exposure to the pathogens, they also need to cross the “blood-brain barrier”, which is more difficult.

Hm; according to Wikipedia’s entry on the BBB, meningitis causes a breach of the barrier. Am I misunderstanding? Either way, is this state of affairs the reason why the disease can “explode” onto the scene, as mentioned in post #3? How long does it hang around?

As mentioned above meningitis is inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

“Meningitis” as meant by most members of the public is bacterial Meningococcal meningitis caused by the Neisseria Meningitidis organism, and many people will have been immunised against one strain (N. Meningitidis C) and will thus be immune to it (while still susceptible to other causes of meningitis).

Leaper- if you are under 25, live in the UK, have not had the MenC vaccine and would like it, you can get it from your GP on request.

If you are fit and well the chances of developing meningitis as an adult are very small- certainly the chances of developing it from sharing a spoonful of food are pretty minute.