What is bacterial meningitis (meningococcal disease)?
Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness, especially for adolescents and young adults. It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria can cause meningitis, an infection covering the brain and spinal cord. It can also infect the blood stream, a condition called meningococcemia. Infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss, loss of a limb, and even death.
About 800-1,200 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. Even with antibiotic treatment, 10-15% of these people die. Of those who live, up to 20% have permanent complications.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms include vomiting, headache, fever, stiff neck, disorientation, and sensitivity to light. A rash may also be present. Meningococcal disease moves rapidly through the body in a matter of hours of initial symptoms.
How is it spread?
Meningococcal disease is transmitted through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions such as spit or saliva. The bacteria can spread through close or lengthy contact with an infected person. Living in close quarters, sharing food, kissing, or coughing/sneezing without covering the mouth and nose are all ways that meningococcal disease can be transmitted.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get meningococcal disease. However, it is most common in infants less than one year of age and people 16-23 years of age. Adolescents and young adults are at increased risk of getting the disease if they live in highly populated or crowded living conditions, such as college dorms.
How do I protect myself?
The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated with the meningococcal vaccine available at your healthcare provider’s office. The vaccine is known as MCV4 (Menactra® and Menveo® are the brands) and can prevent meningococcal disease caused by four serotypes, including two of the three most common types in the United States. The vaccine has been proven to be safe. Severe reactions to the vaccine are very rare.
More recently, two vaccines have become available that offer protection from meningococcal serogroup B (Bexero® and Trumenba®). These vaccines, known as MenB vaccines, provide additional protection from bacterial meningitis; however, these vaccines should not replace routine vaccination with MCV4. Please check with your healthcare provider for more information.
When should I get the vaccine?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) suggests adolescents receive a dose of quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) at age 11-12 years, and receive a booster dose at age 16, so that a dose is ideally received less than five years before starting college. This timing will protect students through the college years, when students are at increased risk for exposure.
In order to satisfy the meningococcal vaccine requirements, students must be vaccinated within the previous five years before attending college and at least 10 days before the first day of class. You should be ready to attend college classes if you followed the recommended schedule for meningococcal vaccines: one dose of MCV4 around 11-12 years of age a booster dose at 16-18 years of age.
Additional Information
For more information about the meningococcal vaccine, see the following:
For more information about the various types of meningococcal disease, see the following: