The fatality rate of meningitis depends largely on the infection type and how quickly a person receives appropriate medical care.

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes or “meninges” surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Most infections are due to a bacteria or virus, but some result from fungi or parasites.

It is vital that anyone experiencing symptoms of meningitis seeks immediate medical care.

This article outlines meningitis fatality rates and survival rates and provides information on the prevalence of the disease. We also discuss some factors that can affect outlook.

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), meningitis is a global public health concern with a high fatality rate.

Among the different types of meningitis, bacterial meningitis (BM) carries the highest fatality rate. According to the WHO, 1 in 6 people dies from BM, and 1 in 5 who survives develops serious complications.

A 2019 study found that global meningitis cases increased from 2.5 million in 1990 to 2.82 million in 2016. Despite this increase, overall deaths decreased by 21%. Still, the fatality rate of meningitis remains high, especially compared with other vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and tetanus.

A 2019 IMHE study found that meningitis caused 236,000 deaths worldwide. Around 112,000 of these deaths were among children under 5 years of age.

Bacterial meningitis

A 2021 study notes that at least 1.2 million cases of BM develop yearly and that 135,000 of these result in death. According to the WHO, death from BM can occur within 24 hours.

The Illinois Department of Public Health notes that, before antibiotics became the standard treatment for BM, around 70 in 100 BM cases resulted in death. Today, with antibiotic treatment, this figure is around 15 in 100 or fewer.

Four types of bacteria produce the majority of BM infections. These are:

  • Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib)
  • Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus)
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus)
  • Streptococcus agalactiae (group B streptococcus)

Vaccines are the best protection from BM, preventing Hib, meningococcus, and pneumococcus.

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis (VM) is more common than BM and is usually less severe. Doctors may also call VM “aseptic meningitis.”

Most people with healthy immune systems can recover from VM. However, anyone with symptoms of meningitis should see a doctor, as all types of the disease can be severe.

The majority of VM cases are due to enteroviruses. These are common viruses that typically cause only mild symptoms.

Other viruses that may cause VM include:

The arbovirus “West Nile virus” is spread via infected mosquitos and causes VM with a fatality rate of 4–13%.

Meningitis survival statistics differ according to meningitis type. Below are the survival statistics for the two most common forms of meningitis — bacterial and viral.

Bacterial meningitis

BM has the highest fatality rate. The WHO states that, among people who contract BM, 5 in 6 survive. However, 1 in 5 survivors goes on to develop a permanent disability, such as:

Viral meningitis

Scientists need to conduct more research into the survival statistics of VM. However, a 2021 review states that people usually recover from this type of illness.

The odds of surviving meningitis strongly relate to the type of meningitis a person has and the speed with which the person begins treatment.

In developed countries where medical care is available more quickly, an individual who develops meningitis has a good chance of survival. Conversely, in developing nations with lower vaccination rates and decreased availability of medical care, fatality rates are higher.

People who survive BM often develop long-term health effects that require ongoing treatment. These may include brain damage and problems with hearing, speech, or vision.

Rates of meningitis remain high in some areas of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, but are low in the United States. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded around 240 reported cases of meningitis in the U.S.

The risk of a meningitis outbreak increases when people live or spend time in close proximity, such as:

  • at a day care or school
  • at refugee camps
  • at mass gatherings
  • in overcrowded housing, such as student, military, or occupational housing

Rates of meningitis are highest among children under 1 year of age, followed by children in adolescence.


According to the IMHE’s 2019 study, the global prevalence of meningitis was equivalent to 99.9 cases per 100,000 people.

Meningitis rates equated to 98.8 cases per 100,000 females and 101 cases per 100,000 males. These figures represent a 13.1% decrease in meningitis cases from 2010–2019 for both sexes.

Two key factors that affect meningitis fatality are vaccinations and access to prompt and appropriate medical care.

Vaccination significantly reduces the likelihood of developing meningitis. A BM vaccine can protect against bacterial causes of meningitis, while a VM vaccine can protect against viral causes of meningitis, such as:

  • measles
  • mumps
  • chickenpox
  • influenza

If symptoms of meningitis develop, a person should seek immediate medical attention. Some possible symptoms to look out for include:

Meningitis is the medical term for inflammation of the protective meninges surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This inflammation typically occurs as a result of a bacterial or viral infection. Less commonly, fungi or parasites can cause meningitis.

In the U.S., deaths from meningitis have decreased since the introduction of meningitis vaccines. However, the disease is still a serious health concern in some areas of the world.

One key factor that can impact survival and outlook is immediate access to appropriate medical care. As such, anyone experiencing symptoms of meningitis should seek immediate medical attention.