Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria Meningitidis, also known as meningococcus (muh-ning-hog-kok-us). The illness most people are familiar with is meningococcal meningitis, which people sometimes just call meningitis. Meningococcal Meningitis is a very serious infection. It occurs when the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cordbecome infected with this bacterium.
Meningocuccus bacteria are spread through the droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers. It is believed that 10% to 20% of the population carries this type of bacteria in the back of their nose and throat at any given time with no signs or symptoms of disease. This percentage is increased during an outbreak, and also among certain populations.
It is important to recognize the symptoms of meningococcal disease, as early detection often can dictate the prognosis. The symptoms can include feeling poor, fever, nausea/vomiting, a severe and persistent headache, a stiff neck, sensitivity to bright light, drowsiness, joint pain, confusion or other mental changes, and a red/purple skin rash in which color does not fade when pressure is applied to skin. In addition, very young children may refuse food, appear abnormally drowsy or agitated, and react with unusual body movements or sounds when handled. Symptoms can appear quickly or over several days.
People should seek urgent medical help if they suspect one of their family members is ill with meningococcal infection.
Initial diagnosis of meningococcal disease can be made by clinical examination followed by a lumbar puncure showing a purulent spinal fluid. Because the symptoms are easily confused with the flu, very often the diagnosis is delayed.
Meningococcal meningitis can be fatal or cause great harm. Death can occur in as little as a few hours. In non-fatal cases, permanent disabilities include severe scarring or amputation of toes, fingers, or limbs. As many as one out of five people who contract the infection have serious complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 15% of those who survive are left with disabilities that include deafness, brain damage, and neurological problems.
The most important form of prevention is the immunity through vaccinations. In addition, maintaining healthy habits, such as getting plenty of rest and staying out of close contact with people who are sick, can also help.
Five serogroups, A, B, C, Y and W135 are responsible for most cases of this disease. The quadrivalent (also referred to as the conjugate vaccine or the mv4 vaccine) is licensed and approved in the United States beginning at two months. The CDC recommends the conjugate vaccine to be administered at age 11, with a booster dose at 16. There are two pharmaceutical companies that manufacture this vaccine. GlaxoSmithKlein makes Menveo and Sanofi Pasteur makes Menactra. It is OUR opinion that this vaccine should be administered earlier, and repeated every 3-5 years after this booster because we believe in the protection. The Serogroup B vaccines were not licensed in the United States until recently. There are two vaccines that are FDA approved for ages 10-25 (although they are approved more broadly in other countries). Pfizer makes Trumenba – which is to be administered in a three dose series, and GlaxoSmithKlein makes Bexsero – which is to be administered in a two dose series. The CDC states that the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine series may be administered to adolescents and young adults age 16 through 23. It is OUR opinion that this vaccine should be administered earlier and later because we believe in this protection. We do not yet know the length of the immunity from this vaccine.
Meningococcal Disease is a vaccine preventable disease; but you need to receive the vaccines in order to prevent the disease.