Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria (germs) called meningococci, also known as Neisseria meningitidis. Although meningococcal disease is uncommon, it is a very serious disease. The infection can develop very quickly and can be fatal in about 10 per cent of cases. If infection is diagnosed early enough and the right antibiotics are given quickly, most people make a complete recovery. Meningococcal bacteria commonly cause: • meningitis – an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord • septicemia – infection in the bloodstream. There are five main types of meningococcal bacteria. In the U.S., a vaccine is available that helps prevent four of the five types. Meningococcal disease is most common in winter and spring Meningococcal disease can occur all year round and in all age groups. However, it is more common during winter and early spring. Meningococcal disease is a common bacteria that usually causes no harm Meningococcal bacteria live naturally in the back of the nose and throat in about 5 – 15% of the population without causing illness. People of any age can ‘carry’ the germs without becoming ill. Although anyone could be a carrier at some time, carriers are most common among young adults, especially men and smokers. In a small number of people, a particular strain of the bacteria manages to get through the lining of the throat, enter the bloodstream and cause invasive meningococcal disease (meningitis or septicemia). Meningococcal bacteria are difficult to spread The meningococcal bacteria are difficult to spread. They are only passed from person to person by regular, close, prolonged household and intimate contact with secretions from the back of the nose and throat. They cannot be picked up from water supplies, swimming pools, buildings or factories. Meningococcal bacteria are only found in humans, are fragile and, depending upon the strain, only live from minutes up to a few hours outside the body. You cannot catch meningococcal germs from animals. Chances of being infected by meningococcal bacteria from surfaces are insignificant. Meningococcal disease is uncommon but serious Most cases occur randomly and are unrelated to any others. Outbreaks where more than one person is affected are rare. Signs and symptoms in older children and adults may include: • Fever • Headache • Loss of appetite • Neck stiffness • Discomfort when looking at bright lights (photophobia) • Nausea and/or vomiting • Diarrhea • Aching or sore muscles • Difficulty walking • General malaise • Moaning, unintelligible speech • Drowsiness • Confusion • Collapse • Rash of red-purple pinprick spots or larger bruises. • Painful or swollen joints Signs and symptoms in infants and young children are similar to above, but may also include: • Refusing to eat • Irritability, fretfulness • Grunting or moaning • Extreme tiredness or floppiness • Turning away from light (photophobia) • Convulsions or twitching • Dislike of being handled Get further medical help if you are still worried • You know your family and friends better than anybody else. If somebody close to you has some of these signs and symptoms, and you are worried that they are much sicker than usual, seek medical help immediately. • In the very early stages, meningococcal disease can appear to be like other, less serious illnesses. Your doctor may not immediately recognize this illness. Do not hesitate to seek medical help again – even if it has only been an hour or two since you last sought help. • If the person seems to be sicker, has suddenly developed a rash or becomes drowsy – seek medical help urgently. • Young adults should not be left alone if they suddenly develop a fever – they may become seriously ill very quickly. Early antibiotic treatment is vital • If meningococcal disease is suspected, an antibiotic is given immediately. People with meningococcal disease are almost always hospitalized and may require admission to an Intensive Care Unit. • The sooner that antibiotic and other treatments begin, the less damage the disease will cause. However, this is a very serious infection, which can progress very rapidly despite appropriate and rapid treatment. Close contacts should be offered antibiotics Most people who have had contact with an affected person, such as classmates, co-workers and peers, do not need antibiotics. But very close contacts of an infected person should be identified and offered a short course of appropriate antibiotics in accordance with public health guidelines for the management of meningococcal disease. Close contacts may include:  Members of the same household  A girlfriend or boyfriend  Anyone who has stayed overnight with the affected person in the seven days before the illness appeared.  Children in a day care center or preschool who have spent time in the same room as the affected person.  Anyone who has kissed or shared eating utensils, drink containers, toothbrushes, cigarettes or hookahs with the affected person. It is important to understand that preventive antibiotics are effective at getting rid of meningococcal bacteria from the throat, but they are not a treatment for meningococcal disease nor do they guarantee that someone will not develop the disease. What to do if you suspect meningococcal disease If you think a person has symptoms that suggest meningitis or septicemia, contact your doctor immediately, call 911 for an ambulance or go to the nearest hospital emergency department. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital. Where to get help  In an emergency, always call 911 for an ambulance  Your doctor  Emergency department of your local hospital  Questions? Call the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment at 498-6700. Things to remember  Meningococcal bacteria are only passed from person to person by regular close, prolonged household and intimate contact with secretions from the back of the nose and throat.  If you have been in contact with the saliva or nasal secretions of an infected person, talk to your medical provider about whether or not you need preventive treatment.  Meningococcal disease is uncommon, but serious.  You are the expert in your family’s health – if you are worried, seek immediate medical assistance.  It is important to go back to the doctor or hospital for more help if you are still concerned.  Meningococcal vaccine provides good protection from four strains of meningococcal disease. Information adapted from Victoria, Australia, Dept. of Human Services, and the APHA Communicable Disease Manual, 19th. Ed.