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What is Meningitis or Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease, often called meningitis, is a relatively rare but serious disease caused by the swelling of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. These illnesses are often severe and include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia). In 2013, there were 550 cases of meningococcal disease reported in the United States. Meningococcal disease is seasonal, most often occurring in January and February. Teens and young adults ages 16-23 have the highest incidence of disease, which is why the CDC recommends that all children ages 11-18 receive a meningitis vaccine.

Who Is At Risk for Meningitis?

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms of meningococcal disease can include abrupt onset of high fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting and a rash. Symptoms most often appear within five days of exposure, but can appear between two to 10 days. Meningococcal disease is a very serious disease and can be fatal, in spite of treatment. Death can occur within a few hours after the onset of symptoms. Survivors often have loss of arms and legs, hearing loss, kidney failure, permanent brain damage or chronic nervous system problems. If you think you or your infant or child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important.

To learn more about how meningitis is spread, symptoms, treatment and what to do if you think you’ve been exposed, check out the New York State Department of Health Fact Sheet on Meningococcal Disease.

How can I protect my child from meningitis?

Get vaccinated! Keeping up to date with recommended immunizations is the best defense against meningococcal disease. The CDC recommends that all teens and young adults ages 11-18 receive the meningitis vaccine, and some children as young as 6 weeks old who are at increased risk. Prevention is always best when it comes to vaccine-preventable diseases. Learn more about the meningitis vaccine for infants, children, teens and young adults.

Maintaining healthy habits, like getting plenty of rest, not sharing cups or water bottles, and not coming into close contact with people who are sick, can also help.

What do I need to know about Meningitis Vaccines?

There are a number of safe, effective vaccines that prevent meningococcal meningitis. The vaccines may cause mild and infrequent side effects, such as redness and pain at the injection site lasting up to two days. The meningitis vaccines are 85 to 100 percent effective in preventing the four kinds of meningococcus germ (types A, C, Y, W-135). These four types cause about 70 percent of the disease in the United States. A newer vaccine protects against type B, which accounts for about one-third of cases in adolescents, and the CDC recently recommended that clinicians may choose to administer vaccine against serogroup B to persons between the ages of 16-23. This vaccine is also recommended for those 10 years of age and older with certain health conditions. For more information regarding Meningitis B vaccine recommendations, heck out the CDC’s vaccine information statement.

While meningitis vaccines are effective against many types of meningococcal disease, they are not 100% effective against all types, and they do not prevent all cases of meningococcal disease.

What are the New York State school requirements for meningitis vaccines?

School Kids should be protected with the meningitis vaccine

Starting with the 2016-17 school year, New York State students entering grades seven and twelve will be required to have been administered adequate doses of the meningococcal meningitis vaccine for school entry. All New York state requirements related to school entry will apply. Learn more about New York State’s current immunization requirements for school entry.

How do I learn more about Meningococcal Disease?

Listen to this CDC podcast on meningococcal disease for a general overview of meningitis, including what it is, the five types, and the causes.