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Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is a typically severe bacterial infection of the blood or brain. These infections can cause hearing loss, learning problems, brain damage, loss of a limb, or death. About 1 in 10 people with meningococcal disease will die from it even if treated appropriately.

The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. This can occur when people live or sleep in close contact or through other close contact such as kissing. Teens and young adults have a higher risk for meningococcal disease. Sometimes Neisseria meningitidis bacteria spread to people who have had close or lengthy contact with a patient with meningococcal disease. People in the same household, roommates, or anyone with direct contact with a patient's oral secretions, meaning saliva or spit, (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend) would be considered at increased risk of getting the infection.

People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease. This is known as prophylaxis (pro-fuh-lak-sis). The health department investigates each case of meningococcal disease to make sure all close contacts are identified and receive prophylaxis. This does not mean that the contacts have the disease; it is to prevent it.

A vaccine against four types of the meningococcal bacteria is recommended routinely for 11-12 year olds. adolescents entering high school or 15 years of age, college freshman living in dorms, and other high-risk persons.  Teens need a booster shot when they are 16 years old to stay protected when they are at highest risk. Older teens who didn’t get the shot should talk to their doctor about getting it as soon as possible, especially if they are about to move into a college dorm or go into the military. Other people at high-risk for meningococcal disease, including children and adults with certain medical conditions, may also need to get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor.

View personal stories of people affected by meningococcal disease at ShotbyShot.org.

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Last modified on: 4/15/2014 4:46 PM