Meningitis Awareness and Prevention
Who is at risk for Meningitis? Meningococcal disease can be devastating and often—and unexpectedly—strikes otherwise healthy people. Anyone at any age can get meningococcal disease, but some people have a higher risk for the disease. These include:
- Adolescents and young adults
- Infants less than one year old
- People living in crowded settings like college dorms or military barracks
- Those with persistent complement component deficiency or anatomic or functional asplenia
- People traveling to certain areas outside the U.S. such as the meningitis belt in Africa
- Laboratory personnel who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
- Those who might have been exposed to meningococcal disease during an outbreak
Adolescents can have increased risk due to certain lifestyle factors such as:
- Crowded living conditions (such as dormitories, boarding schools and sleep-away camps)
- Attendance at a new school with students from geographically diverse areas
- Irregular sleeping patterns
- Active or passive smoking
- Social situations where there is crowding
- Moving to a new residence
Why is getting vaccinated against Meningitis important? Meningococcal bacteria can cause severe, even deadly, infections like:
- Meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)
- Bacteremia or septicemia (bloodstream infections)
About 1 in 5 people who survive their meningococcal infection have permanent disabilities.
Why is it especially important for teens to get vaccinated against Meningitis?
As noted, adolescents can be at higher risk for Meningitis. Colleges often require their students to be vaccinated (but not all). Most teens following the recommended vaccination guidelines will have received their Meningitis vaccines. However, the required vaccination series is generally the MenACWY. While offering decent protection, it's suggested that those at higher risk consider the addition of the MenB vaccine to add an additional layer of protection.
What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?
- In bacterial meningitis, fever, headache and neck stiffness can come on suddenly and your condition can worsen rapidly.
- Neck stiffness.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia).
- Confusion or altered mental state.
- Lack of energy (lethargy), extreme sleepiness or trouble waking up.
- Lack of appetite.
- Small round spots that look like a rash
Only your healthcare provider can diagnose meningitis. If you think you have meningitis, talk to your provider or go to the nearest ER.
How is Meningitis spread from person to person? There are many ways you can get meningitis, depending on whether the cause is infectious or not:
- From a contagious illness passed person-to-person, like a virus or bacteria.
- From food contaminated with something infectious.
- From swimming in or drinking water contaminated with something infectious.
- From fungi in the environment that you breathe in.
- As a complication of non-infectious illnesses, like cancer or lupus.
- As the result of a head injury or brain surgery.
- As a side effect of a medication.
Meningitis itself — swelling of the meninges — isn’t contagious, but some of the causes of it are. Most bacterial and viral causes of meningitis can be spread from person to person. You can’t catch other causes of meningitis from another person.
How can Meningitis be prevented?
- Get vaccinated if you are able.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Thorough hand-washing is particularly important after using the bathroom, before and after preparing a meal or eating, after contact with poop (animal or human) and after gardening or working with sand or dirt.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
Avoid contact with others when either of you are sick with a contagious disease. If you can’t avoid others, wearing a mask may help prevent the spread of disease. Don’t share personal items (like drinking glasses) with other people.