By CNN Library

Here's a look at what you need to know about meningitis.

General Information: Meningitis is caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes (known as meninges) covering the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation is typically caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding these areas.

There are five types of meningitis: bacterial, viral, parasitic, fungal, and non-infectious.

Bacterial meningitis is contagious, and comes in a number of different strains.

Viral meningitis is less severe and occurs more frequently than bacterial meningitis.

Fungal, viral, parasitic, and non-infectious meningitis are not contagious. Fungal and parasitic meningitis are very rare.

Usual Causes: The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections, when a virus travels to the brain after entering the system through nose or the mouth. The disease is spread through fecal contamination and improper hand-washing.

Bacterial meningitis starts with an infection similar to a cold and spreads via respiratory and throat secretions, like saliva and phlegm.

People contract fungal meningitis by inhaling affected spores.

Contamination of food, water, and soil can lead to parasitic meningitis.

Non-infectious meningitis can be caused by physical injury, cancer, systemic lupus and certain drugs.

Enteroviruses, the most common cause of viral meningitis, are most often spread from person to person through fecal contamination or through respiratory secretions of an infected person.

Symptoms and Treatment: Symptoms usually present themselves quickly for some types of meningitis and include high fever and chills, mental status changes, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, headaches and a stiff neck.

Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics.

Viral meningitis is treated with bed rest, plenty of fluids and pain medication for body aches.

Fungal meningitis is treated with antifungal medications.

Parasitic meningitis is incredibly rare and most cases have proven fatal. There are effective laboratory treatments, but treated infections in humans almost always prove fatal.

Prevention: Frequent hand-washing.

Regular exercise and eating healthy to maintain a stable immune system.

Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.

There are vaccines for children for several bacterial types of meningitis, as well as for some of the viruses that cause viral meningitis.

Timeline of recent outbreak in the U.S.: Multi-state outbreak of fungal meningitis associated with contaminated steroid injections for pain management from the Massachusetts-based medical company New England Compounding Center.

May 21, 2012 - First batch of contaminated steroid injections.

September 18, 2012 - first case of meningitis report in Tennessee.

September 26, 2012 - NECC recalls three lots of the steroid injections.

October 4, 2012 - FDA confirms fungi is in NECC injections.

October 6, 2012 - NECC expands recall.

October 19, 2012 - More than 99 percent of patients with potential exposure have been contacted.

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