Bacterial meningitis droplet precautions include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolating those with the disease. They can help reduce the spread of this disease from person to person.

Meningitis is a serious disease that can cause long-term side effects and even potentially prove fatal. Since the 1990s, the rates of meningococcal disease have declined in the United States and remained low.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 375 total cases in the U.S. occurred in 2019, an incidence rate of 0.11 cases per 100,000 people.

Bacterial meningitis often spreads from person to person through droplets from the mouth and nose. Doctors recommend antibiotics for close contacts of people with meningococcal meningitis to stop the spread in the short term. Additionally, vaccination can provide long-term protection.

Droplet precautions, such as isolation, can help prevent the spread of meningitis.

Keep reading to learn more about different types of meningitis and what steps to take to reduce transmission.

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In meningitis, a pathogen causes infection in the meninges, the membranes that form a protective coating around the brain and spinal cord. When people contract meningitis, their meninges become inflamed or swollen.

This infection can lead to varying symptoms or long-term debilitating effects. Symptoms may come on suddenly and are usually much worse than those of viral meningitis.

Some of the most recognizable symptoms of meningitis are:

Up to 70% of people with bacterial meningitis will experience at least one of the common symptoms, such as neck stiffness, high fever, or confusion.

Bacterial meningitis is a condition that requires immediate treatment.

Anyone who experiences these or other symptoms of meningitis needs immediate medical attention. Research from the CDC states it is important to start early treatment to reduce the risk of long-term complications.

Several others types of bacteria can cause meningitis.

Pneumococcal meningitis

Pneumococcal meningitis most often affects babies and young children under 18 months of age. A type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia causes this form of the condition.

Individuals will receive antibiotic treatment, and some of the most frequent prescription antibiotics for pneumococcal meningitis include ampicillin and cefotaxime.

This form of meningitis can cause long-term effects in up to 25% of people who recover. Prompt treatment in a hospital setting is necessary for individuals with this disease.

Meningococcal disease

The Neisseria meningitidis bacterium causes this form of meningitis. It most often affects infants, young children, and young adults. This disease can cause swelling of the meninges and blood poisoning, or septicemia.

Some common complications that have associations with the meningococcal disease include:

Rapid hospital admission and antibiotic treatment can reduce the risk of death and severe side effects.

Bacterial meningitis often spreads through droplets from the mouth or nose. Therefore, it is crucial for healthcare professionals to take precautions to prevent the spread of these droplets.

The CDC recommends the following droplet precautions:

  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks
  • removing all PPE when leaving a patient’s room
  • hand hygiene after removing PPE
  • handling any contaminated items with precaution
  • avoiding the reuse of face masks

The CDC notes that medical professionals should follow these precautions for the first 24 hours of antibiotic treatment for meningitis.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, doctors should treat people with meningitis in private rooms. If private rooms are not available, curtains should separate patients. Doctors traditionally define the area of infectious risk as a distance of 1 m (3 feet), so they will space beds according to this measurement.

PPE recommendations

Other recommendations for PPE with droplet precautions include:

  • goggles to protect the eyes
  • face shields
  • wearing masks and face shields simultaneously

Individuals who come into contact with people with meningitis should follow all droplet precautions. They should also practice proper hygiene by washing their hands regularly and avoiding reusing face masks or other disposable PPE.

Taking the right droplet precautions is crucial for protecting healthcare workers. These precautions can also prevent the spread of meningitis to friends or family members.

One of the most important parts of bacterial meningitis treatment is time, as delaying antibiotic treatment can increase the mortality rate. Doctors should treat anyone showing signs of bacterial meningitis.

Adults with meningitis may also experience certain brain complications. These can include:

The CDC recommends the following lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of contracting bacterial meningitis:

  • avoiding smoking
  • getting plenty of rest
  • avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • washing hands often with soap and water — use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing — use the upper sleeve or elbow if tissue is not available

A person who smokes is more likely to carry the meningococcal bacteria in their throat, so stopping smoking may be another way to reduce the spread of this infection.

Some viruses and bacteria that cause meningitis are also present in saliva. With this in mind, doctors advise not to share drink bottles, glasses, or cups.

These habits are especially important for people at increased risk for disease. Risk factors include age and if a person has a weakened immune system.

Several meningitis vaccines can prevent certain types of bacterial meningitis.

Parents or caregivers of young children, teenagers, or young adults may consider meningitis vaccination. Those interested in learning more about preventing meningitis should speak with their doctor.

Read on for more about the meningitis vaccines.

This infection may also result from viruses, fungus, or parasites.

Viral meningitis occurs most often in infants, young children, and people with compromised immune systems. This form of meningitis is the most common, but most individuals do not need medical treatment.

Some of the viruses that may cause meningitis include:

Most people with mild viral meningitis will usually recover without treatment within 7–10 days. Antiviral medication may help meningitis if a herpes virus or influenza has caused the infection.

Individuals who develop severe illness or are at risk for developing severe illness may need care in a hospital.

Read more about other types of meningitis.

Although bacterial meningitis is not common in the U.S., this condition can cause serious health consequences and, in some cases, death.

Bacterial meningitis droplet precautions can help reduce disease transmission. Wearing PPE and keeping patients in individual rooms can help prevent the spread of this disease.

Anyone with bacterial meningitis requires immediate treatment at the hospital. Early treatment can prevent long-term health effects and increase the likelihood of a full recovery.