Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges and subarachnoid space that can also involve the brain cortex and parenchyma. It can be acquired spontaneously in the community - community-acquired bacterial meningitis - or in the hospital as a complication of invasive procedures or head trauma (nosocomial bacterial meningitis). Despite advances in treatment and vaccinations, community-acquired bacterial meningitis remains one of the most important infectious diseases worldwide. Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis are the most common causative bacteria and are associated with high mortality and morbidity; vaccines targeting these organisms, which have designs similar to the successful vaccine that targets Haemophilus influenzae type b meningitis, are now being used in many routine vaccination programmes. Experimental and genetic association studies have increased our knowledge about the pathogenesis of bacterial meningitis. Early antibiotic treatment improves the outcome, but the growing emergence of drug resistance as well as shifts in the distribution of serotypes and groups are fuelling further development of new vaccines and treatment strategies. Corticosteroids were found to be beneficial in high-income countries depending on the bacterial species. Further improvements in the outcome are likely to come from dampening the host inflammatory response and implementing preventive measures, especially the development of new vaccines.