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Meningitis FAQ

What students need to know about bacterial meningitis


What is meningococcal meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is a severe bacterial infection of the bloodstream and meninges (a thin lining covering the brain and spinal cord). It is a relatively rare disease and usually occurs as a single isolated event. A cluster of cases or outbreaks is also possible.


Who gets meningococcal meningitis?

Anyone can get meningococcal meningitis, but it is more common in infants, children, and young adults. Also, first-year college students who live in residence halls have a slightly higher risk of getting this infection than others their age.


How are the bacteria that cause this type of meningitis spread?

The meningococcal bacteria spreads through direct close contact with nose or throat discharges of an infected person. Many people carry this particular germ in their nose and throat without any signs of illness, while others may develop severe symptoms.


What are the symptoms?

Although most people exposed to the meningococcal bacteria do not become seriously ill, some may develop fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, and a rash. Up to 25 percent of patients who recover may have permanent damage to the nervous system. The disease occasionally causes death.


How soon do the symptoms appear?

The symptoms may appear two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within five days.


When, and how long is an infected person able to spread the disease?

From the time a person becomes infected until the bacteria is no longer present in discharges from the nose and throat, he or she may transmit the disease. The duration varies among individuals and with the treatment used.


What is the treatment for meningococcal meningitis?

Certain antibiotics are very useful in eliminating the germ from the nose and throat. Penicillin is the drug of choice for meningitis. 


Should people who have been in contact with a diagnosed case of meningococcal meningitis get treatment?

Only people who have been in close contact (household members, intimate connections, health care personnel performing mouth‐to‐mouth resuscitation, day care center playmates, etc.) should consider seeking preventative treatment. Such people are usually advised to obtain a prescription for rifampin from their physician. Casual contact, as might occur in a regular classroom, office, or factory setting is not usually significant enough to cause concern. People who suspect exposure to meningococcal infections should contact their local health department to discuss whether they should receive preventative treatment.


Is there a vaccine to prevent meningococcal meningitis?

Yes, some vaccines will protect against several of the strains of the meningococcal bacteria, including ACWY and another for B.