Glossary

Amoebic meningitis

A very rare infection caught from stagnant water in waterholes and in poorly chlorinated swimming pools, especially when the water temperature rises above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Children can become infected when contaminated water is forced up the nose. The organism then reaches the base of the brain directly.

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

An injury to the brain that happens after birth.

Ampicillin

A beta-lactam antibiotic that is part of the aminopenicillin family.

Bacteremia

The presence of bacteria in the blood.

Bacterial Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial Meningitis is the most aggressive type and can lead to permanent disability or death in a matter of hours.

Most cases of bacterial meningitis are caused by meningococcus, pneumococcus Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib).

Other bacteria that can cause meningitis include e.coli and Group B Strep (common causes of neonatal meningitis) and tuberculosis.

These bacteria can also cause a variety of other diseases, including septicaemia.

Chloramphenicol

Chloramphenicol (or chlornitromycin) is a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

Cephalosporin

A type of antibiotic medicine that kills bacteria or prevents its growth.

Cerebral palsy

A permanent physical impairment caused by an injury to the developing brain, usually before birth.

Cases of cerebral palsy differ from person to person, and may range from mild to severe. People with cerebral palsy may experience difficulties with motor control or associated impairments like epilepsy, disorders of speech, vision, hearing or intellect.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

A watery fluid that flows in and around the brain and spinal cord.

Using a lumbar puncture, a sample of CSF is obtained in order to diagnose or rule out meningitis and other conditions.

Cochlear implant

A medical device that is implanted into the head of a deaf person. When used with a microphone and speech processor, it electrically stimulates the auditory nerve so the person is able to hear sound.

Conjugated vaccines

Immunisations (or vaccines) prepare the immune system by exposing the body to a germ so that it is better able to fight an infection when it occurs.

Immunisations contain either parts of a germ, live but weakened germs, or inactivated (dead) germs.

Two forms of vaccine can be produced:

  • Vaccines made of pure polysaccharide (called polysaccharide-only vaccines). Polysaccharide is the complex sugar coating of the bacteria.
  • Vaccines that chemically link (or conjugate) the polysaccharide to a protein (called conjugated vaccines).

CT scan (Computerised Tomography scan)

Computer-generated pictures of structures within the body compiled from multiple X-ray images.

E.coli Meningitis

A rare form of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the e.coli bacterium.

Most cases of e.coli meningitis occur in newborn babies or infants under three months of age (neonatal meningitis).

Risk factors include infants with impaired immune systems or who experience head injuries or brain surgery.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that results in recurring seizures, which can be caused by infections such as meningitis.

Fontanelle

A soft spot on the head of a baby or infant.

The posterior fontanelle is a small triangular shaped area on the rear of the skull. It usually closes at 6 weeks of age.

The anterior fontanelle is a larger diamond shaped area on the top of the skull. This does not close until 12 to 18 months of age.

Fungal Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Fungal meningitis causes severe infections but occurs infrequently.

Fungal meningitis is not contagious and spreads by inhaling fungal spores from the environment. Most cases occur in people with impaired immune systems, including people with AIDS.

Vaccines are not available for fungal meningitis. The risk of contracting fungal meningitis can be minimised by avoiding exposure to environments likely to contain fungal elements (for example, bird droppings and dust).

Gangrene

Gangrene is a type of necrosis that occurs when substantial areas of tissue die due to a lack of blood supply. It can lead to amputation of the affected areas or death.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

One of the bacterium that can cause Bacterial Meningitis.

GBS is the most common cause of meningitis in newborn babies (neonatal meningitis).

Group B Strep Meningitis (Streptococcus B Meningitis)

A form of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacterium. Group B Strep Meningitis is the most common cause of meningitis in newborn babies (neonatal meningitis).

Pregnant women can transmit GBS to their newborns at birth.

Haemophilus Influenza

A bacterium found in the respiratory tract that can lead to a range of infections, including meningitis.

There are six different types of haemophilus influenza, but Haemophilus Influenza type B (Hib) is the most common cause of human illnesses.

Haemophilus Influenza was formerly called Pfeiffer's bacillus or Bacillus influenza.

Haemophilus Meningitis

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused bythe haemophilus influenza bacterium.

There are six different types of haemophilus influenza, but Haemophilus Influenza type B (Hib) is the most common cause of human illnesses.

Haemophilus Influenza type B (Hib)

Hib is one of the most common bacterium that can cause Bacterial Meningitis.

It is the most common type of haemophilus influenza, a bacterium found in the respiratory tract.

Hib can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (for example, through kissing, sneezing or coughing).

Hib used to be the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the USA, Canada, UK, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand. The incidence of Hib disease has been reduced by over 95% in countries that have introduced the Hib vaccine into its infant immunisation programs.

Read more about meningitis prevention.

Hib (Haemophilus Influenza B)

Hib is one of the most common bacterium that can cause Bacterial Meningitis.

It is the most common type of haemophilus influenza, a bacterium found in the respiratory tract.

Hib can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (for example, through kissing, sneezing or coughing).

Hib used to be the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the USA, Canada, UK, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand. The incidence of Hib disease has been reduced by over 95% in countries that have introduced Hib vaccine into its infant immunisation programs.

Read more about meningitis prevention.

Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. The fluid is often under increased pressure and can compress and damage the brain.

Immunisations

Immunisations (or vaccines) prepare the immune system by exposing the body to a germ so that it is better able to fight an infection when it occurs.

Immunisations contain either parts of a germ, live but weakened germs, or inactivated (dead) germs.

Two forms of vaccine can be produced:

  • Vaccines made of pure polysaccharide (called polysaccharide-only vaccines). Polysaccharide is the complex sugar coating of the bacteria.
  • Vaccines that chemically link (or conjugate) the polysaccharide to a protein (called conjugated vaccines).

Before a vaccine can be approved for use, it must be thoroughly tested for safety and effectiveness. All of the vaccines now available to prevent meningitis have been used for several years in some countries, and millions of doses have been administered.

Some people can have minor reactions to vaccines, including redness, swelling or pain at the injection site, fever, loss of appetite, aches and pains.

Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)

A procedure where a needle is inserted into the lower spinal canal to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in order to diagnose or rule out meningitis and other conditions.

Meninges

The membranes or tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis

Meningitis in an inflammation of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.

There are three main types of meningitis infection:

  • Bacterial Meningitis
  • Viral Meningitis
  • Fungal / environmental Meningitis

Meningitis can be hard to recognise in the early stages.

Symptoms can be similar to those of the common flu and can develop quickly, over a matter of hours.

It’s important to know the warning signs and to get medical treatment fast. Until the cause of meningitis is known, it should be regarded as a medical emergency.

Meningococcal A / Meningitis A

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the meningococcus bacterium.

Meningococcal A is one of the most common types of meningococcus. Along with serogroups B, C, Y and W135, it is responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

Meningococcal A epidemics have become extremely rare in developed countries but still occur in Africa, Saudi Arabia, China, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Vaccines are available for Meningococcal A. Read more about meningitis prevention.

Meningococcal B / Meningitis B

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the meningococcus bacterium.

Meningococcal B is one of the most common types of meningococcus. Along with serogroups A, C, Y and W135, it is responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

A vaccine is now available for Meningococcal B.

Meningococcal C / Meningitis C

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the meningococcus bacterium.

Meningococcal C is one of the most common types of meningococcus. Along with serogroups A, B, Y and W135, it is responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

Meningococcal C is the cause of most outbreaks among teenagers in high school, college or university.

Vaccines are available for Meningococcal C. Read more about meningitis prevention.

Meningococcal Disease

A contagious bacterial disease caused by the meningococcus bacterium, it can cause meningitis and septicaemia.

Meningococcal Disease can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (for example, through kissing, sneezing or coughing).

About 50% of cases of meningococcal disease occur in children under the age of 5 years and there is a second disease peak in adolescents 15-19 years of age. Whilst these are the peak age groups for meningococcal cases, people of all ages can contract this disease.

Vaccines are available for Meningococcal Disease. Read more about meningitis prevention.

Meningococcal Y

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the meningococcus bacterium.

Meningococcal Y is one of the most common types of meningococcus. Along with serogroups A, B, C and W135, it is responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

Vaccines are available for Meningococcal Y. Read more about meningitis prevention.

Meningococcal W135

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the meningococcus bacterium.

Meningococcal W135 is one of the most common types of meningococcus. Along with serogroups A, B, C and Y, it is responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

Vaccines are available for Meningococcal W135. Read more about meningitis prevention.

Meningococcal Meningitis

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the meningococcus bacterium.

There are different types of meningococcus (called serogroups), of which serogroups A, B, C, Y and W135 are responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

The bacteria can also cause a variety of other diseases including septicaemia.

A vaccine for Meningococcal B is now available. Read more about meningitis prevention.

Meningococcal Septicaemia (Meningococcemia)

Meningococcal Septicaemia(blood poisoning) is a potentially life-threatening infection of the blood (sepsis) that occurs when the meningococcus bacterium gets into the bloodstream. The infection may be seen alone or in addition to meningitis.

Meningococcal Septicaemiacan be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (for example, through kissing, sneezing or coughing).

Meningococcemia (Meningococcal Septicaemia)

Meningococcemia (blood poisoning) is a potentially life-threatening infection of the blood (sepsis) that occurs when the meningococcus bacterium gets into the bloodstream. The infection may be seen alone or in addition to meningitis.

Meningococcemia can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (for example, through kissing, sneezing or coughing).

Meningococcus (neisseria meningitides)

Meningococcus is one of the most common bacterium that can cause Bacterial Meningitis.

There are different types of meningococcus (called serogroups), of which serogroups A, B, C, Y and W135 are responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

Meningococcus is much more likely to damage the small blood vessels in the skin. As a result, small haemorrhages may appear as red spots that rapidly grow into large bruises or purple-black areas called purpure or petechiae. These bruises may be more difficult to detect on dark skin.

Meningococcus also differs from pneumococcus and Hib in that it can cause both small outbreaks and large epidemics.

Necrosis

Necrosis can occur when there is not enough blood flow to parts of the body, resulting in the death of living tissue. Necrosis is not reversible and can lead to gangrene, amputation of the affected areas or death.

Neonatal Meningitis (Group B Strep Meningitis)

A form of Bacterial Meningitis caused by Group B Streptococcus (GBS) or e.coli. Pregnant women can transmit the bacterium to their newborns at birth.

Otitis media

An inflammation of the middle ear (middle ear infection).

Petechiae (purpure)

Red, black or purple discolorations caused by bleeding underneath the skin.

To test a rash for petechiae, press a clear glass tumbler against the skin. If the rash does not blanch or fade, it may be a symptom of septicaemia and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Pneumococcal bacteremia

The presence of pneumococcus bacteria in the blood.

Pneumococcal Meningitis

A type of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the pneumococcus bacterium.

Pneumococcal meningitis is less likely to cause full-blown septicaemia than meningococcal meningitis.

Pneumococcal can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (for example, through kissing, sneezing or coughing). Vaccines are available for pneumococcal meningitis. Read more about meningitis prevention.

Pneumococcus (streptococcus pneumoniae)

Pneumococcus is one of the most common bacterium that can cause Bacterial Meningitis.

More than 90 strains of pneumococcus have been identified. It can cause a number of serious, potentially life-threatening infections including: meningitis, severe pneumonia, bacteremia , and septicaemia. It is also the cause of more common infections such as otitis media, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Polysaccharide / Polysaccharide-only vaccines

Immunisations (or vaccines) prepare the immune system by exposing the body to a germ so that it is better able to fight an infection when it occurs.

Immunisations contain either parts of a germ, live but weakened germs, or inactivated (dead) germs.

Two forms of vaccine can be produced:

  • Vaccines made of pure polysaccharide (called polysaccharide-only vaccines). Polysaccharide is the complex sugar coating of the bacteria.
  • Vaccines that chemically link (or conjugate) the polysaccharide to a protein (called conjugated vaccines).

Purpure (petechiae)

Red, black or purple discolorations caused by bleeding underneath the skin.

To test a rash for purpure, press a clear glass tumbler against the skin. If the rash does not blanch or fade, it may be a symptom of septicaemia and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Serogroup / Serotype

A group of bacteria containing a common antigen. An antigen is any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies against it.

For example, there are different serogroups of meningococcus, of which serogroups A, B, C, Y and W135 are responsible for over 95% of meningitis and septicaemia cases.

Scoliosis

A medical condition involving curvature of the spine.

Septicaemia (Meningococcemia or Meningococcal Septicaemia)

Septicaemia(blood poisoning) is a potentially life-threatening infection of the blood (sepsis) that occurs when the bacteria that cause meningitis gets into the bloodstream. The infection may be seen alone or in addition to meningitis.

All three of the most common meningitis bacteria (meningococcus, pneumococcus, and Hib) can cause septicaemia, but it occurs in a much larger proportion of meningococcal infections.

Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

A procedure where a needle is inserted into the lower spinal canal to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in order to diagnose or rule out meningitis and other conditions.

Streptococcal Meningitis

A form of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the streptococcus pneumonia bacterium.

The most common form is Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacterium.

Streptococcus A Meningitis

A form of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the Streptococcus A bacterium.

Streptococcus B Meningitis (Group B Strep Meningitis)

A form of Bacterial Meningitis caused by the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacterium

Group B Strep Meningitisis the most common cause of meningitis in newborn babies (neonatal meningitis).

Pregnant women can transmit GBS to their newborns at birth.

Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus)

Pneumococcus is one of the most common bacterium that can cause Bacterial Meningitis.

More than 90 strains of pneumococcus have been identified. It can cause a number of serious, potentially life-threatening infections including: meningitis, severe pneumonia, bacteremia, and septicaemia. It is also the cause of more common infections such as otitis media, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Sulfonamide

Sulfonamide (or sulphonamide) is a chemical compound made up of the amides of sulfonic acids which forms the basis of several groups of drugs.

Tuberculosis meningitis / TB meningitis

A rare form of meningitis that is caused when the tuberculosis bacterium spreads to the brain and spine from another part in the body.

Risk factors include people with impaired immune systems (including people with AIDS) or with a history of excessive alcoholism or pulmonary tuberculosis.

Vaccines

Vaccines (or immunisations) prepare the immune system by exposing the body to a germ so that it is better able to fight an infection when it occurs.

Vaccines contain either parts of a germ, live but weakened germs, or inactivated (dead) germs.

Two forms of vaccine can be produced:

  • Vaccines made of pure polysaccharide (called polysaccharide-only vaccines). Polysaccharide is the complex sugar coating of the bacteria.
  • Vaccines that chemically link (or conjugate) the polysaccharide to a protein (called conjugated vaccines).

Before a vaccine can be approved for use, it must be thoroughly tested for safety and effectiveness. All of the vaccines now available to prevent meningitis have been used for several years in some countries, and millions of doses have been administered.

Some people can have minor reactions to vaccines, including redness, swelling or pain at the injection site, fever, loss of appetite, aches and pains.

Viral Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis is the most common but least severe type. Almost all patients recover without any permanent damage, although full recovery can take many weeks.

It is most often spread through respiratory droplets (kissing, coughing, sneezing, sharing food or utensils) or faecal contamination. Elderly people and those with conditions that affect their immune system are more at risk.

Many viruses can causes meningitis. The most common are a group called enteroviruses, which live in the respiratory and intestinal tracts and cause colds and sore throats, usually with fever, headache, and muscles aches. It is rare that these viruses spread to the meninges and cause meningitis.

The mumps virus can also cause meningitis, but due to the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR), this form of meningitis is now rare in developed countries.

There are no vaccines available for viral meningitis, but washing hands thoroughly and keeping surfaces clean can help prevent the disease.