KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — We’ve all heard of meningitis outbreaks on college campuses and doctors urging parents to have children vaccinated before they head off to school. Bacterial meningitis can be deadly, but it’s also pretty rare.

Dr. Katy Stordahl with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital stopped by the WATE 6 On Your Side studios to share more.

What is the difference between viral & bacterial meningitis?

Both are inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain or spinal cord, one is caused by a virus. The other is caused by bacteria and must be treated quickly to prevent death or brain damage.

What causes bacterial meningitis & how is it spread?

Many of the bacteria that cause meningitis are fairly common and cause other routine illnesses. Just like other common infections, it is spread when someone who’s infected touches, kisses, or coughs or sneezes on someone who isn’t infected. Outbreaks occur most often among those in close quarters.

Signs & Symptoms

Seek medical attention immediately if you think your child has ANY type of meningitis:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe Headache
  • Lethargy or confusion
  • Neck Stiffness


Thorough frequent hand-washing. Also, the Hib, measles, mumps, polio and pneumococcal vaccines can protect against meningitis caused by those germs.

Your child’s pediatrician will also recommend a bacterial meningitis vaccine when your child is around 11 or 12 years of age, then a booster shot when they are 16 to 17 years of age. Many colleges now require this vaccine before admitting students.

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