Meningococcal Disease – What Parents Should Know

Please take a few minutes to check out these must-know facts and guidelines on Meningococcal disease, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is Meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, also called meningococcus. Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., living in close quarters, kissing, sharing drinks, eating off same fork). People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.

Who can get Meningococcal disease?
Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but it is more common in infants and children. Other persons at increased risk include household contacts of a person known to have had this disease, immunocompromised people, and people traveling to parts of the world where meningococcal disease is prevalent.

What are the symptoms?
A common outcome of meningococcal infection is meningitis. When caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria it is known as meningococcal meningitis. When someone has meningococcal meningitis, the protective membranes covering their brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges, become infected and swell. The symptoms include:

• Fever
• Headache
• Stiff Neck
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Increased sensitivity to light
• Altered mental status (confusion)

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. In newborns and infants, symptoms (fever, headache, neck stiffness) may be difficult to notice. The infant may appear to be irritable, inactive, vomiting or feeding poorly.

Another common outcome of meningococcal infection is bloodstream infection, either septicemia or bacteremia, and the more serious of the two is septicemia. When someone has meningococcal septicemia, the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply, damaging the walls of the blood vessels and causing bleeding into the skin and organs. Symptoms may include:

• Fatigue
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Rapid breathing
• Cold chills
• Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen
• Red dots which can progress to dark purple rash
Please note: Meningitis and septicemia can sometimes occur together.

If you think you or your child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.

How is Meningococcal disease treated?
Meningococcal disease can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. If meningococcal disease is suspected, antibiotics are given right away. In some cases the infection has caused too much damage to the body for antibiotics to prevent death or serious long-term problems. Depending on how serious the infection is, other treatments may also be necessary. These can include such things as breathing support, medications to treat low blood pressure, and wound care for parts of the body with damaged skin.

How can Meningococcal disease be prevented?
Vaccination is key. Keeping up to date with the recommended immunizations is the best defense against the disease. Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all children at age 11-12 years, with a booster at 16 years. Children with certain underlying medical issues, or those who are traveling to certain areas, may need to be vaccinated earlier.

Available vaccines cover most, but not all strains. Even if you have been vaccinated, there is still a chance you can develop a meningococcal infection. People should know the symptoms of meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicemia since early recognition and quick medical attention are critical. In addition, maintaining healthy habits, such as getting plenty of rest and not coming into close contact with people who are sick, can help.

For more information, please visit the CDC website at

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