Meningococcal Meningitis

What is meningococcal meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection of the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Meningococcal infection can result in meningitis and/or septicemia (bloodstream infection).

How is it spread?

The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease require prolonged (lengthy), close contact in order to spread. The bacteria are much harder to spread than, for example, the virus that causes the flu. The bacteria cannot live outside of the body for very long. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact like being in the same room as someone who is sick or handling items that they touched.  You must be in close contact with a sick person’s saliva (spit) or other respiratory secretions in order for the bacteria to spread. Close contacts include people in the same household, roommates, or anyone with direct contact with a patient's saliva (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend through French kissing).

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of meningitis include the sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. Patients may also have nausea, vomiting, confusion, and sensitivity to light. The symptoms of septicemia include fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, cold hands and feet, chills, severe muscle aches, and rapid breathing. A dark purple or red rash may also be present and is a very concerning symptom in the context of the other symptoms. Persons with these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention. Symptoms can occur one to ten days after exposure, but three to four days after exposure is more typical.

How can it be prevented?

Vaccines are available to protect against three serogroups (B, C, and Y) of meningococcal disease commonly seen in the United States.

Reporting case​s of meningococcal disease

Cases of meningococcal disease should be reported immediately by phone. Report suspected or confirmed cases of meningococcal disease to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department Communicable Disease Prevention and Control program by calling (408) 885-4214.


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