Image:  Meningococcal Bacteria

What is Meningitis?

It’s hard to recognize and can be deadly.1-4 Meningococcal meningitis, a form of meningococcal disease that although rare, is a serious bacterial infection.1,4 Unlike viral meningitis, it can potentially kill an otherwise healthy young person within 1 day after the first symptoms appear.2,5-8

Meningococcal disease can be difficult to recognize, especially in its early stages because meningitis symptoms are similar to those of more common viral illnesses.2,4 But unlike more common illnesses, meningococcal disease can cause death or disability within just 1 day. 2,5-8

Many of the people who survive meningococcal meningitis can suffer permanent consequences, such as:6,9,10

  • Amputation of limbs, fingers, or toes
  • Severe scarring
  • Brain damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney damage
  • Psychological problems

Who’s at Risk for Meningitis?

Teens and young adults are at the highest risk, but keep in mind that anyone can get meningitis, even people who are usually healthy, such as athletes or college students.1,4,5

Is Meningitis Contagious?

Yes, it can be spread by common activities, such as:5,11,12

  • Kissing
  • Sharing utensils and drinking glasses
  • Living in close quarters (dormitories or summer camps)
  • Smoking or being exposed to smoke
Image: Ways to Spread Meningitis

Lifestyle can also play a part. Things like staying out late and irregular sleeping habits can make teens feel run down and may also put them at greater risk for meningitis by weakening their immune system.4,12,13

What Can I Do?

Get vaccinated. Because you can’t watch your teen every minute of every day, your best option is to talk to your child’s school nurse or other health care provider about the importance of vaccination.14

If you ever suspect that your child has meningitis, go to the emergency room right away, where he or she can be evaluated and receive prompt medical care.4,7

Next: Meningitis Symptoms


  1. Atkinson W, Wolfe S, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 12th ed. Washington DC: Public Health Foundation; 2011.
  2. Logan SA, MacMahon E. Viral meningitis. BMJ. 2008;336(7634):36-40.
  3. Thigpen MC, Whitney CG, Messonnier NE, et al; Emerging Infections Programs Network. Bacterial meningitis in the United States, 1998-2007. N Engl J Med. 2011;364(21):2016-2025.
  4. Tunkel AR, van de Beek D, Scheld MW. Acute meningitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2010;1189-1229.
  5. Apicella MA. Neisseria meningitidis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2010;2737-2752.
  6. Erickson LJ, De Wals P, McMahon J, Heim S. Complications of meningococcal disease in college students. Clin Infect Dis. 2001;33(5):737-739.
  7. Stephens DS, Greenwood B, Brandtzaeg P. Epidemic meningitis, meningococcaemia, and Neisseria meningitidis. Lancet. 2007;369(9580):2196-2210.
  8. Thompson MJ, Ninis N, Perera R, et al. Clinical recognition of meningococcal disease in children and adolescents. Lancet. 2006;367(9508):397-403.
  9. Borg J, Christie D, Coen PG, Booy R, Viner RM. Outcomes of meningococcal disease in adolescence: prospective, matched-cohort study. Pediatrics. 2009;123(3):e502-e509.
  10. Erickson L, De Wals P. Complications and sequelae of meningococcal disease in Quebec, Canada, 1990-1994. Clin Infect Dis. 1998;26(5):1159-1164.
  11. Bruce MG, Rosenstein NE, Capparella JM, Shutt KA, Perkins BA, Collins M. Risk factors for meningococcal disease in college students. JAMA. 2001;286(6):688-693.
  12. MacLennan J, Kafatos G, Neal K, et al; United Kingdom Meningococcal Carriage Group. Social behavior and meningococcal carriage in British teenagers. Emerg Infect Dis. 2006;12(6):950-957.
  13. Imeri L, Opp MR. How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009;10(3):199-210.
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0 through 18 years and adults aged 19 years and older — United States, 2013. MMWR. 2013;62(suppl):1-19.