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Difference Between Bacterial Meningitis and Viral Meningitis

What is bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges). It is of different types like bacterial, viral and fungal. Meningitis caused by bacterial agents is termed as bacterial meningitis, meningitis caused by viral agents is termed as viral meningitis and meningitis caused by fungal agents is termed as fungal meningitis. 


  • Few symptoms are similar in both types of meningitis like neck stiffness, headache, fever and dislike of lights.

Bacterial Meningitis 

Infection of the meningitis caused by bacterial agents is termed as bacterial meningitis. It is most commonly caused by meningococcal bacteria. It is a serious infection and can even cause death of the individual suffering from this infection in as little as few hours if not treated in time. However, people suffering from this infection after taking antibiotics mostly recover from bacterial meningitis. One who delay the treatment or the condition become worse suffer from permanent brain damage, hearing loss and cognitive and learning disabilities. Vaccines are available for prevention of bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis spreads from one person to another through exposure or contact with fluids (oral and nose) of an infected person.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis is caused by around 50 types of viruses. The most common virus that causes viral meningitis is termed as enteroviruses. It is usually mild and not serious. It often clears on its own and does not need any treatment. However, it is advised that anyone suffering from the viral meningitis should consult the doctor right away as it is important to find out whether it is meningitis or not, what is causing it, and the treatment option. Infants less than 1 month do not have a strong immune system and are at an increased risk of severe illness from viral meningitis. Vaccines are available for prevention of bacterial meningitis.

Difference between bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis


Bacterial meningitis 

It is a serious category of meningitis resulting in permanent damage (hearing loss, learning disabilities and disability or even death. It occurs when bacterial agents invade and affect the meninges. It is a medical emergency and immediate treatment with antibiotics helps in curing it. Vaccination has significantly reduced the incidences of bacterial meningitis.

Viral meningitis

It is not as serious as the bacterial meningitis and is the most common type of meningitis. Most of the people infected with this type of meningitis get well on their own without any treatment. It is caused by members of a category of viruses known as enteroviruses.

Causative agents

Bacterial meningitis 

  • Streptococcus pneumonia
  • Neisseria meningitides
  • Hemophilus influenza. etc.

Viral meningitis

  • Echovirus
  • Coxsachie
  • Poliovirus

Common microbes

Bacterial meningitis 

Viral meningitis

Enteroviruses are the most common in the children


Bacterial meningitis

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Purple skin rash
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • High fever
  • Fatigue
  • Stiffness in neck
  • Lethargy
  • Sensitivity to light

Viral meningitis

  • High temperature
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Tiredness
  • Increased sensitivity to light


Bacterial meningitis 

Positive in around 75 percent of patients

Viral meningitis

Negative in viral meningitis


Bacterial meningitis 

Bacterial meningitis can result in septicemia (aka sepsis) which could result in limb loss/death 

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis can result in non-visible after affects such as headaches and depression


Bacterial meningitis 

It spreads through contact with fluids from nose or mouth of an infected person 

Viral meningitis

It spreads through contact with saliva or stool of an infected person 


The points of difference between bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis been summarized as below:


Is meningitis fungal or bacterial?

Meningitis can be fungal or bacterial depending on the cause of acute inflammation of the meninges.

What’s the difference between bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis is caused by the bacterial genus and viral meningitis is caused by viral genus

Which is fungal meningitis?

Histoplasma, Cryptococcus, Blastomyces, Coccidioides, and Candida.

Can fungal meningitis be cured?

Fungal meningitis is not contagious – that is it does not spread from one person to another and if detected early – it is treatable and can be cured.

What are the long-term effects of fungal meningitis?

Seizures, epilepsy, hallucinations, hair loss, kidney damage, and liver problems

Where is fungal meningitis found?

Fungal meningitis stems from a fungal infection in the body and eventually reaching the brain and spinal cord.

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References :

[0]Chadwick, D. R. (2005). Viral meningitis. British medical bulletin, 75(1), 1-14.

[1]De Cauwer, H. G., Eykens, L., Hellinckx, J., & Mortelmans, L. J. (2007). Differential diagnosis between viral and bacterial meningitis in children. European Journal of Emergency Medicine, 14(6), 343-347.

[2]Logan, S. A., & MacMahon, E. (2008). Viral meningitis. Bmj, 336(7634), 36-40.

[3]Quagliarello, V., & Scheld, W. M. (1992). Bacterial meningitis: pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and progress. New England Journal of Medicine, 327(12), 864-872.

[4]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meningitis.JPG

[5]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meningitis_Histopathology.jpg

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