Some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (e.g., coughing, kissing).
Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis are as contagious as things like the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.
However, sometimes the bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis have spread to other people who have had close or prolonged contact with a patient with meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcal meningitis) or Hib.
People in the same household or day care center, or anyone (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend) who has direct contact with a patient's oral secretions would be considered at increased risk of acquiring bacterial meningitis.
People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningitis caused by N. meningitidis should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting bacterial meningitis. Antibiotics for contacts of a person with Hib meningitis disease are no longer recommended if all contacts four years of age or younger are fully vaccinated against Hib disease.
There are vaccines against Hib, some serogroups of N. meningitidis, and many types of Streptococcus pneumoniae. The vaccines against Hib are very safe and highly effective.