Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (Banner Imagery) - Go to home page

Meningitis/Meningococcal Disease

Division of Epidemiology
275 E. Main St.
Frankfort, KY  40621
502-564-3418 or 3261 

Meningococcal Disease
(Meningococcemia, Neisseria meningitis)

What Is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection of the blood and meninges (the thin covering of the brain and spinal cord). It is a relatively rare disease caused by infection with the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis.

How Is This Disease Spread?

The mode of transmission is by direct contact, including respiratory droplets from nose, mouth and throat of infected people.

The Symptoms Of Meningitis

High fever, headache, and stiff neck are common symptoms of meningitis in anyone over the age of 2 years. These symptoms can develop over several hours or over 1 or 2 days. Frequently, a petechial rash with pink macules or, very rarely, vesicles. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness.

In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to detect. Infants may only appear slow or inactive, or be irritable, have vomiting, or be feeding poorly. Seizures, delirium and coma often appear. Symptoms may appear 2 to 10 days after infection, but usually within 3 to 4 days.

How Meningitis Is Diagnosed

Isolation of Neisseria meningitidis from a normally sterile site (such as blood, cerebral spinal fluid or less commonly, joint, pleural, or pericardial fluid). Meningococcal disease manifests most commonly as meningitis and/or meningococcemia that may progress rapidly to purpura fulminans, shock and death. Other symptoms listed above may occur.

The Treatment For Meningococcal Disease

Meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is important to start antibiotic treatment early in the course of the disease.

How Meningococcal Disease Can Be Prevented

Individuals that have a cough or flu like symptoms should avoid contact with other individuals and should cover their mouths while coughing and sneezing.

Protection of contacts: Close surveillance of household, daycare, and other intimate contacts for early signs of illness.

Prophylactic administration of an effective chemotherapeutic agent (an antibiotic) to intimate contacts; household contacts, military personnel sharing the same sleeping space and people socially close enough to have shared eating utensils. Close friends at school but not the whole class. Younger children in day care centers are exceptions and, even if not close friends, all should be given prophylaxis after an index case is identified.

Is There A Vaccine To Prevent Meningococcal Disease?

There is a vaccine for meningococcal disease, however it is not recommended for everyone. Routine immunization is not recommended in the United States. The vaccine is effective against groups A, C, W-135 or Y. No vaccine effective against group B meningococci is currently available in the United States. The duration of the vaccine is limited, particularly in children less than 5 years of age.

Who Should Receive the Vaccine?

The vaccine should be given to certain risk groups over 2 years of age who are especially susceptible to serious meningococcal infections, including asplenic patients, persons with terminal complement deficiencies and laboratory personnel who are exposed routinely to N. meningitidis in solutions that may be aerosolized.

Information should be given to freshman dormitory students concerning Meningococcal disease and the benefits of vaccination. Vaccination should be provided or made easily available to those freshmen that wish to reduce their risk of disease. 


Last Updated 9/30/2010