Meningococcal Meningitis

This page is intended for medical providers. Information for the public about meningitis is also available.

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection of the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Neisseria meningitidis can colonize the upper airways without causing infection, but in rare cases can progress to invasive infection, resulting in meningitis and/or septicemia.


The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease require prolonged, close contact with respiratory secretions in order to spread. Close contacts include people in the same household, roommates, or anyone with direct contact with a patient's saliva. 


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.


Vaccines are available to protect against all three serogroups (B, C, and Y) of meningococcal disease commonly seen in the United States, as well as serogroups A and W, seen more commonly abroad. The vaccination against serogroups A,C,W, and Y are recommended for all youth ages 11 to 16 and may be administered up to age 23. Vaccination against serogroup B is usually reserved for populations identified to be at specific risk or associated with an outbreak. In addition, close contacts to a confirmed case may be offered a short course of certain antibiotics to prevent risk of colonization and future infectious disease. The decision to provide antibiotic prophylaxis should be made by a healthcare provider.


Cases of suspected or confirmed meningococcal disease should be reported immediately by phone to the Public Health Department. Report suspected or confirmed cases of meningococcal disease to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department Communicable Disease Prevention and Control program 24-7 by calling (408) 885-4214. On nights, weekends, and holidays, the voicemail recording will provide an option to page the health officer on call for emergency after-hours consultation. 

Additional Resources 

Disease information (CDC)

Meningococcal Vaccination (CDC)

Clinical information (CDC)

Laboratory Information (CDC)

Disease trends and monitoring (CDC)

For Your Patients

Meningitis information for the public

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