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School Nurse » Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus [muh-ning-goh-KOK-us]. These illnesses are often severe and can be deadly. They include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).

These bacteria spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., by living in close quarters, kissing). Doctors treat meningococcal disease with antibiotics, but quick medical attention is extremely important. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best defense against meningococcal disease.

Keeping up to date with recommended immunizations is the best defense against meningococcal disease. Maintaining healthy habits, like getting plenty of rest and not having close contact with people who are sick, also helps.

Vaccination

Vaccines help protect against all three serogroups (B, C, and Y) of Neisseria meningitidis bacteria commonly seen in the United States. Like with any vaccine, meningococcal vaccines are not 100% effective. This means there is still a chance you can develop meningococcal disease after vaccination. People should know the symptoms of meningococcal disease since early recognition and quick medical attention are extremely important.

Learn more about what everyone should know about meningococcal vaccination.

The nurse in this 2006 image was in the process of administering an intramuscular injection into the left shoulder muscle of this 13-year old boy as his mother looked on. He was assisting in the injection by holding up his shirt sleeve in order to expose the immunization site.

Antibiotics

Close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick. This is known as prophylaxis (pro-fuh-lak-sis). Examples of close contacts include:

  • People in the same household or roommates
  • Anyone with direct contact with a patient’s oral secretions (saliva or spit), such as a boyfriend or girlfriend

Doctors or local health departments recommend who should get prophylaxis.

Re-Infection

If you get meningococcal disease twice, your doctor should check to see if you have an underlying immune deficiency.

Although rare, people can get meningococcal disease more than once. A previous infection will not offer lifelong protection from future infections. Therefore, CDC recommends meningococcal vaccines for all preteens and teens. In certain situations, children and adults should also get meningococcal vaccines.