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Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is an immediately notifiable condition in Oklahoma, meaning cases must be reported to the state health department immediately upon suspicion or diagnosis. Meningococcal disease is a potentially severe or fatal disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Fortunately, the disease is uncommon and not all people who become infected with the bacteria develop illness. If you become infected, this means that you carry the bacteria in your nose or throat. At any one time, approximately 10% to 15% of the population will carry the bacteria but never experience any illness; less than 1% of infected people will ever develop symptoms.

Neisseria meningitidis can be passed from person to person by direct contact with nose and throat secretions through coughing, kissing, or sharing items such as drinking and eating utensils. The time from exposure to symptom onset (incubation period) ranges from 2 to 10 days, but usually occur within 3 to 4 days after exposure. Illness may present as pneumonia, septicemia, or meningitis. Septicemia is an infection of the blood with symptoms of fever, nausea, vomiting, and a rash. Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the central nervous system. Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, and a petechial rash. About 10% to 20% of people that develop disease will have long-term effects such as cognitive or intellectual disabilities, limb loss, or hearing loss. If untreated, approximately 15% of people with the disease will die.

Some groups of people have a higher risk of meningococcal disease, such as first year college students living in dormitories or new military recruits living in barracks. Other persons at increased risk include household contacts of a person known to have had this disease, immunocompromised people, people without a spleen, and people traveling to parts of the world where meningococcal disease is more common. Exposure to tobacco smoke and having a concurrent upper respiratory infection also increase the risk of meningococcal disease. Infants are at highest risk, but rates decrease after infancy and then increase in adolescence and young adulthood. 

Meningococcal disease is an immediately notifiable condition in Oklahoma.

Vaccination serves as the best prevention method towards meningococcal disease. In the United States there are two types of meningococcal vaccines licensed: Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) and Serogroup B meningococcal (MenB). Consult with your healthcare provider or the local health department about receiving the vaccine.

If you experience symptoms of meningococcal disease, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Antibiotics such as penicillin or ceftriaxone are the appropriate treatment for meningococcal disease.