What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is defined as an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.1 It's caused when the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges become infected.1,2 There are actually several types of meningitis but bacterial and viral meningitis are the 2 most common.2
Meningococcal Meningitis and Meningococcal Sepsis
Meningococcal meningitis occurs when bacteria called meningococci infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord.3,4 When these same bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can cause another serious condition known as meningococcal sepsis.3,5
Meningococcal disease, which includes meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal sepsis, is defined as any infection that’s caused by the bacteria meningococci.1,3 Although rare, it’s very serious and potentially life-threatening.1,3 It can potentially kill an otherwise healthy young person within 1 day after the first symptoms appear.6
Meningococcal disease can be difficult to recognize, especially in its early stages because meningitis symptoms are similar to those of more common viral illnesses.1
About 1 in 5 people who survive meningococcal meningitis can suffer permanent consequences, such as3-10:
- Amputation of limbs, fingers, or toes
- Severe scarring
- Brain damage
- Hearing loss
- Kidney damage
Who's at Risk for Meningococcal Meningitis?
Teens and young adults are at increased risk. But anyone can get meningitis, even people who are usually healthy, such as athletes or college students.1,3
Is Meningitis Contagious?
Yes, the bacteria that cause it can be spread
through the exchange of saliva, which can
occur during common activities, such as3,10:KissingSharing utensils
& drinking glasses
Risk factors for meningococcal meningitis include3,11,12:Living in close quarters
(ie, dormitories)Smoking or being
exposed to smoke
Lifestyle may also play a part. For example, staying out late and irregular sleeping habits can make teens feel run down and might also put them at greater risk for meningitis by weakening their immune system.13
What Can I Do?
Get your teen 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.
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.1,14,15
Next: Meningitis Symptoms