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9 December 2016

FAQ's on Meningococcal Disease

FAQ's on Meningococcal Disease
What is meningococcal disease? Meningococcal is an uncommon disease caused by bacteria that are present in the throat or nasal passages of about 10% percent of the general population. Most people can carry these bacteria and never get ill.  There are nine different serogroups that have been associated with this disease: A, B, C, D, X, Y, Z, 29E, and W135.

Serogroups B, C, and Y each account for about 1/3 of the disease in the United States.  Oregon sees more serogroup B, with 55% of the cases being serogroup B.

This bacterium lives in the noses and throats of 5 to 10 percent of the population.  It causes serious disease only if it enters the blood stream and spreads through the body. Meningococcal meningitis occurs when the bacteria causes inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The illness may be rapid and severe.

Is meningococcal disease easy to catch? No. Meningococcal disease in not highly contagious. It is a very rare disease, generally striking less than 1 person out of every 100,000 per year.

How does this spread? The germs that cause bacterial meningitis are spread from person to person. Some bacteria can spread by exchanging of respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if living in the same household. Meningococcal disease is not highly contagious.

Close contacts of cases (household members, daycare center classroom contacts, close friends) are at elevated risk of disease; after a case occurs, these persons should take antibiotics to prevent the infection. School classmates, those living in other dormitory rooms, and healthcare workers attending the case are generally not at elevated risk.

Fortunately, most of the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as viruses that cause the common cold or the flu. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with bacterial meningitis has been.

What are the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease?  Young adults are at increased risk of meningococcal disease, a serious infection that can lead to lifelong complications and even death. This potentially fatal disease most often causes severe swelling of the tissue around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), or a serious blood infection (meningococcemia).  Even with treatment, approximately one out of every 10 people who get the disease will die, and two in 10 will suffer serious and permanent complications, including brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and amputation of arms, legs, fingers or toes.

Meningitis symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, with stiff neck and rash. There are often additional symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)

  • Altered mental status (confusion)

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3 to 7 days after exposure. Death can happen in as little as 24-48 hours.

What should I do if I think I or my child have been exposed? Jackson County Public Health is working with the family, Medford School District and Oregon Health Authority to identify anyone who falls into the categories above and may have had enough close exposure to need preventive antibiotic treatment. Jackson County Public Health is providing the antibiotic to those people, the does not mean that the contacts have the disease; it is to prevent it.

If you are concerned about exposure to this illness you may want to contact your health care provider or contact a Jackson County Communicable Disease Nurse at 541-774-8045.

How long are people with meningococcal disease contagious? People are especially contagious for three days before symptoms begin. Those exposed seven or more days before the infected person becomes ill are not likely to become ill themselves.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear? Usually 3 to 4 days, but may range from 2 to 10 days.

How is meningococcal disease diagnosed?It is diagnosed by culturing blood or spinal fluid. Because most people can carry the bacteria without getting sick, nose and throat cultures do not indicate illness.

How are potentially exposed people protected from meningococcal disease? Jackson County Public Health is working with Medford School District, the family and Oregon Health Authority to identify everyone who may have had enough close exposure to be at risk and provide antibiotic treatment. Jackson County Public Health is providing the antibiotic to those people, the does not mean that the contacts have the disease; it is to prevent it.

Who gets meningococcal disease? The disease mostly affects adolescents and young adults. In a recent series of cases in Oregon, most cases were 10-19 years of age with a few cases in children under 5 years of age.

Who should get vaccinated? Vaccination against meningococcal disease is highly recommended for all children 11-21 years of age and for college freshman living in dorms.  Talk with your medical provider or Jackson County Public Health about these vaccinations.

My child had a meningococcal vaccination a few years ago. Does he need another? A booster is recommended, which is 1 dose if first dose was administered before the 16th birthday

What are the risks from the meningococcal vaccines? In rare cases vaccine may cause serious problems such as allergic reactions. The risk of meningococcal vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. Common mild reactions include redness or pain where the shot was given. A small percentage of people who receive the vaccine develop a mild fever.

For More Information:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

Risk Factors-

Causes and Transmission-

Signs and Symptoms-

Diagnosis & Treatment-