What is meningococcal disease?


Meningococcal disease, commonly known as bacterial meningitis, is a life-threatening bacterial infection that can affect the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or it can cause an infection in the bloodstream (meningococcemia) - or both.

Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency and can cause death in as little as a few hours in an otherwise healthy person. In fatal cases, deaths can occur in as little as a few hours in an otherwise healthy person. Although meningococcal disease is most common in infants less than one year of age and people 16 - 23 years of age, it's important to know that meningococcal disease knows no boundaries and can affect anyone at any age.

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How is Meningococcal Disease Spread?


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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What are the symptoms?


The symptoms of meningococcal disease often resemble the flu or other less serious illnesses, making diagnosis difficult. symptoms can appear quickly or over several days - Typically within 2-7 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Common symptoms include:

Sudden high fever

Sudden high fever

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting

Red-purplish skin rash

Red-purplish skin rash

Weakness, feeling very ill, confused

Weakness, feeling very ill, confused

Stiff neck

Stiff neck

Cold hands and feet

Cold hands and feet

Headache

Headache

Eyes sensitive to light

Eyes sensitive to light

Muscle and body aches

Muscle and body aches

 

Meningococcal disease affects all ages, but…

Young adults (16-23), including high school students, are at increased risk because of how they socialize. College students are 5x more likely to have MenB than non-college students.

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How is it treated?


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Meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics. When given shortly after the start of symptoms, antibiotics may prevent the disease from getting worse. Unfortunately, even with proper treatment 10-15% of people with meningococcal disease die and many others are affected for life. People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease should also receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.

About 1 in 5 survivors live the rest of their lives with permanent disabilities, such as limb amputations, kidney disease, seizures, deafness and mental retardation.

This is why keeping up to date with available and recommended vaccines is the best defense against meningococcal disease.

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How can you protect yourself?

You must have received both the MenACWY and MenB vaccines to be fully immunized against meningococcal disease. Few people have received both. Ask your healthcare professional today.

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What vaccines are available to protect against meningococcal disease?


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There are two types of meningitis vaccines to help protect against the 5 most common types of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease: MenACWY and MenB. Most adolescents and young adults have received the MenACWY vaccine, but few have received the MenB vaccine, which recently became available in 2014.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that:

  • All 11 to 12 year olds should get a single dose of a MenACWY vaccine, and a booster dose at age 16.

  • Teens and young adults (16 through 23 year olds) may also get a MenB vaccine, preferably at 16 through 18 years old. People need multiple doses of a MenB vaccine for best protection. People must get the same brand for all doses.

MenACWY and MenB vaccines are covered by public and most private health insurance.

The bottom line for MenB vaccines

If a health care provider does not recommend MenB vaccination, it’s up to the parent or young adult to have a discussion with their health care provider. Please protect yourself and your loved ones against MenB by proactively asking your health care provider specifically, "Has my child received a separate MenB vaccine?"

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Sources:

Meningococcal Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html