Updated May 5, 2017
Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially fatal infection with early symptoms that resemble the flu, making diagnosis difficult. When it causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, it is called meningococcal meningitis. Meningococcal disease can also cause bloodstream infections. There are several bacterial serogroups, or types, that cause meningococcal disease, most commonly serogroups A, C, W, Y, and B.
Signs and symptoms include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion or rash. Early diagnosis and treatment is important because meningococcal disease can be deadly within hours or days of getting sick. It can also lead to severe disabilities, such as loss of limbs.
The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease require prolonged (lengthy) or very close, person to person contact in order to spread. You must be in close contact (e.g., by living in close quarters, kissing) with the person’s saliva (spit) or other respiratory secretions in order for the bacteria to spread.
Fortunately, the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are much harder to spread than the virus that causes the flu. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact, such as being in the same classroom as someone who is sick, sharing a bus with an infected person, or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been.
The bacteria also cannot live outside of the body for very long. There is no evidence that says you are at risk of catching the infection by touching surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, or exercise equipment that someone who is sick touched. Sharing facilities like a cafeteria, gym, bus, or classroom also does not put someone at increased risk of infection. However, hand washing and covering your cough or sneeze are good hygiene practices to follow.
Early diagnosis and treatment is important because meningococcal disease can be deadly within hours or days of getting sick. It can also lead to severe disabilities, such as loss of limbs.
How Meningitis B is Spread
Meningococcal bacteria are spread from person-to-person through the exchange of saliva (spit), coughs, and sneezes. You must be in direct (close) or lengthy contact with an infected person’s secretions to be exposed (e.g., kissing, sharing eating utensils, sharing water bottles, sharing smoking materials such as cigarettes and vaping materials).You can help stop the spread by doing the following:
- Don’t share anything that comes into contact with the mouth (drinking glasses, smoking materials, eating utensils, cosmetics or lip balm)
- Always cough into a sleeve or tissue
- Wash hands frequently (use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available)
Signs and Symptoms
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Fever and chills
- In later stages, a dark purple rash
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid breathing
- Sensitivity to light
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
About the Serogroup B Meningococcal (MenB) Vaccine
The MenB vaccine is different than the meningococcal vaccine required of all students in University housing. The required vaccine for residential students only protects against serogroups A, C, W, and Y. It does not protect against serogroup B.