Meningitis: Meningococcal Disease

Meningitis is an infection of the linings of the brain and spinal cord. Cases can be mild if caused by a virus or more severe if caused by bacteria.

Meningococcal meningitis is a type of bacterial meningitis that is rare, but can cause serious illness and death. According to CDC data, approximately 1,000-1,200 people get meningococcal disease in the USA each year. College freshmen living in dormitories are one of the groups at higher risk than the general population of a similar age. See CDC meningitis website

How is meningococcal meningitis spread?

Meningococcal disease is spread by close contact with oral or nasal secretions of an infected person, including kissing or sharing items such as eating utensils, drinking glasses or cigarettes. The bacteria cannot live outside the body for more than a few minutes and it is not easily transmitted from an infected person through water, swimming pools, or casual contact in a classroom, dining facility, weight room, training room, or restroom.

What are the symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of meningitis include high fever, neck pain and stiffness, severe headache, mental status changes (confusion, lethargy), vomiting, and/or rash. The initial symptoms can resemble the flu. However, because the disease may progress rapidly, students are urged to seek medical care immediately if they experience two or more of these symptoms concurrently. 

How serious is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is very serious. About 10-14% of persons with invasive meningococcal disease die. Of those who recover, up to 19% suffer from some serious after-effect, such as permanent hearing loss, limb loss or brain damage. 

Is there a vaccine?

There are three kinds of meningococcal vaccines available in the US. These vaccines are not used for treatment following an exposure, but they can protect against future infection. 

The two vaccines below protect against 4 types of meningococcal disease (A,C,W,Y). Vaccination with one of these vaccines is now part of the standard immunization recommendations for adolescents and is required for incoming students at UC Berkeley:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) for those 55 and under (brand names (Menactra®, Menveo®, and MenHibrix®).

  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) for those over 55 years of age (brand name (Menomune®).

The more recently developed MenB vaccine protects against serogroup B meningococcal disease, and is generally recommended only for special populations and in outbreak situations (brand names (Bexsero® and Trumenba®).

Where can I get more information about vaccination against meningococcal meningitis?