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Meningococcal Disease

This page was reviewed or revised on Friday, February 7, 2014 11:59 AM

What is Meningococcal Disease? 

Meningococcal Disease is a very serious illness caused by bacteria called NEISSERIA MENINGITIDIS.

The bacteria may cause meningitis - an inflammation of the membrane (meninges) that covers the brain and spinal cord. The bacteria can also cause meningococcemia by entering the bloodstream and causing illness. Severe cases can result in delirium, coma, toxic shock and death.

How is Meningococcal Disease spread?

The disease is spread from person to person by direct contact with nose and throat secretions (particularly saliva) of an infected person.

It is important to know that the risk of getting bacterial meningitis is very low, even if you have been exposed to the bacteria.

The bacteria are normally found in the nose and throat secretions of about 25% of the population at any given time and only pose a risk if the person exposed is susceptible. The bacteria usually disappear from the nose and throat within 24 hours after appropriate antibiotic treatment has begun.

What are the symptoms of Meningococcal Disease?

Symptoms usually occur within 3 - 4 days after exposure but can take as long as 10 days. If you (or your child) have been exposed, observe yourself (or your child) for ten days after contact and report ANY of the following symptoms IMMEDIATELY to your physician:

  • High fever with sudden onset

  • Intense headache

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • A stiff neck

  • In small children, the fontanelle (soft spot) may bulge

  • Irritability or agitation

  • Lethargy/drowsiness

  • A pinpint (petechia) or blotchy rash usually on buttocks, wrists or ankles

How can I reduce the spread of the bacteria?

General precautions to protect yourself and others from becoming infected include:

  1. Do not share eating utensils.
  2. Do not take bites from other peoples food.
  3. Do not share drinking glasses or pop cans.
  4. Special precautions should be taken when eating food served from common containers such as chips, nuts or dip. These foods should be spooned directly onto person's plate.
  5. Avoid kissing on the mouth.
  6. Do not share cigarettes, lipstick or mouth pieces from musical wind instruments.
  7. Wash hands and any object that may be contaminated in hot soapy water.
  8. Dispose of Kleenex in garbage immediately after use and wash hands well afterwards.
  9. Report any suspicious symptoms to your physician immediately.
  10. Some types of Neisseria meningitis (A, C, W-135, and Y) can be prevented by immunization.

What can be done if I am exposed?

A drug called RIFAMPIN may be given to close direct contacts of a case of Meningococcal Disease. This medication is an antibiotic that helps to reduce the carrier state and limits the spread of infection.

Casual contacts such as classmates or co-workers do not need preventative antibiotics.

Rifampin should not be given to pregnant women. If you are a close contact that is or may be pregnant, please let a Public Health Nurse know before taking any medication.

Information dated February 7, 2014

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