Meningococcal disease is spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close or lengthy contact (for example, sharing drinking glasses or kissing).
There are five common groups (serogroups) of meningococcal bacteria that cause most meningococcal disease in the U.S.: A, B, C, W & Y.
People who are close contacts, such as living in the same household, roommates, or anyone with direct contact with a patient's oral secretions (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend), would be considered at increased risk of getting the infection. Close contact includes activities such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, sharing water bottles, lipsticks, e-cigarettes, mouth pieces on musical instruments, sharing eating/drinking utensils, or sharing cigarettes with someone who is sick.
Fortunately, the bacteria are much harder to spread than the virus that causes the flu and cannot live outside of the body for very long. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact such as simply breathing the same air in the same room as someone who is sick, or where someone carrying the bacteria has been, or by handling items that they have touched.
The bacteria live in the nose and throat of about 10% of the population. Although some people who have the bacteria may show no signs and symptoms of the disease (disease carriers), they can still transmit it to others. You can get meningococcal disease from a person who acts and looks healthy.
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