What is bacterial meningitis (meningococcal disease)?
Bacterial meningitis (meningococcal disease) is not common but can be life-threatening—especially to adolescents and young adults. It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities and even death. The bacteria can cause meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. It can also infect the blood stream, a condition called meningococcemia. One in seven adolescents and young adults who contract the disease will die from it.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms include vomiting, headache, fever, stiff neck, disorientation and sleepiness.
Meningococcal disease moves rapidly through the body in a matter of hours of initial symptoms. Possible aftereffects may include brain damage, hearing loss, limb amputation, or learning disabilities.
How is it spread?
It is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. Meningococcal disease is transmitted through close contact with other people who you may live and share food with, kiss and be close to when they cough and sneeze without covering their mouth and nose.
Who is at risk?
Adolescents and young adults are at risk of getting the disease if they live in highly populated or crowded living conditions such as college dormitories and should therefore be vaccinated against meningococcal disease.
How do I protect myself?
The best way is to get vaccinated with one of the two meningococcal vaccines available at your health care provider’s office. The two vaccines are both known as MCV4 (Menactra® and Menveo® are the brands). Both vaccines can prevent 4 types of meningococcal disease, including 2 of the 3 types most common in the United States.
The vaccine has been proven to be safe. Severe reactions to either of the vaccines are very rare. For more information about the various types of meningococcal disease please go to the CDC Meningococcal Disease page.
When should I get the vaccine?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all 11-12 year olds get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also states that a booster dose should be given at age 16. If an adolescent gets the first dose at 13 through 15 years of age, he or she should get a booster at age 16 through 18. The ACIP suggests adolescents be vaccinated less than five years before starting college.