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Meningococcal Disease: Help Prevent It

Did you know that there are approximately 700-1,000 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States each year? Meningococcal disease can be very serious -- even life-threatening -- in 48 hours or less. Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus bacteria. The two most severe and common illnesses caused by Neisseria meningitidis include meningitis (infection of the fluid and lining around the brain) and septicemia (bloodstream infection).

Photo: Two students

About 15% of meningococcal disease survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limb(s), deafness, nervous system problems, or brain damage.

Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease

Symptoms of meningococcal disease are usually sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It can start with symptoms similar to influenza (flu), and will often also cause nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, rash, and confusion. Even with antibiotic treatment, people die in about 10-15% of cases. About 15% of survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limb(s), deafness, nervous system problems, or brain damage.

How Meningococcal Disease Spreads

Meningococcal disease can be spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if living in the same dorm or household. Many people carry the bacteria in their throats without getting meningococcal disease. Since so many people carry the bacteria, most cases of meningococcal disease appear to be random and aren't linked to other cases. Although anyone can get meningococcal disease, adolescents and college freshmen who live in dormitories are at an increased risk.

Meningococcal Disease Prevention

The good news is that there's a vaccine to help prevent meningococcal disease and it can prevent two of the three most common disease-causing strains. The vaccine is routinely recommended for all 11 through 18 year olds. Kids should get the first dose of this vaccine, known as the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), at their 11-12 year old check-up. Now, teenagers are recommended to get a booster dose at age 16. If your teenager missed getting the vaccine at his/her check-up, ask the doctor about getting it now…especially if your child is heading off to college to live in a dorm.

CDC created a video to help you learn more about meningococcal disease and how to prevent it. This video features a CDC doctor who is a mom and an expert in meningitis. You can download the video or podcast at CDC-TV or access it on your mobile phone.

Vaccines for Teens

Your preteen or adolescent is at risk for other diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and HPV that can be prevented with vaccines. If your child hasn't had a check-up within the last year, make an appointment now and ask your child's doctor what vaccines are recommended.

More Information

 

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  • Page last reviewed: April 22, 2013
  • Page last updated: April 22, 2013
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