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Understanding meningococcal disease.

What is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is a contagious and potentially life-threatening infection that can present as bacterial meningitis, an infection of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord, or sepsis, a blood infection.


The highest rates of meningococcal disease occur in infants and adolescents. Globally, there are 500,000 cases of meningococcal disease each year, resulting in approximately 50,000 deaths. In the United States, the disease typically infects 1,000 to 3,000 people each year.

Symptoms, Complications and Transmission

Initial symptoms of meningococcal disease--fatigue, fever and headache--are so similar to flu symptoms that they often result in a delay in diagnosis. In fact, even with early and appropriate treatment, patients may die in as little as 24 hours. Approximately one in five survivors will suffer serious, permanent and devastating side effects, including limb amputations, seizures, hearing loss and learning disabilities.

About 10 percent of the population carries the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease in their nose and throat; however, less than one percent of these carriers will go on to develop the disease. The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease can be passed between people through direct contact with saliva such as coughing, sneezing or kissing.

Treatment Options

When a person has been exposed to someone who has contracted meningococcal disease, he is given a short-term course of antibiotics to help prevent the illness from developing. This approach does not prevent future infections. The same antibiotic treatment regimen is given when a doctor suspects an individual already has the disease, though often at this point it is too late and complications or death may be imminent.


The most effective way to protect against meningococcal disease is through prevention with a vaccine. In the United States, a new vaccine, Menveo, was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help protect against four common vaccine-preventable groups of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease in adolescents and adults 11 to 55 years of age. Menveo is now available in doctors' offices throughout the country and was also recently approved overseas in the European Union.

Vaccination Recommendations

According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an expert committee that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination against meningococcal disease is recommended for all adolescents, 11 to 18 years of age, college freshmen living in dormitories and people in other high-risk groups who are two to 10 or 19 to 55 years of age.

Encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated; no one should have to suffer, or, worse yet, die from a vaccine-preventable disease.

By Keith S. Reisinger, MD, MPH

Dr. Reisinger co-founded and currently serves as Executive Medical Director of Primary Physicians Research, Inc., which conducts clinical trials for pharmaceutical and biotech companies. He also regularly sits on the advisory board of Novartis, which manufactures Menveo. Dr. Reisinger is a practicing pediatrician at Pediatric Alliance, St. Clair in Pittsburgh, PA, and earned his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. His professional affiliations include membership in a number of respected organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the Infectious Disease Society of America. He has published over 50 referenced articles and more than 100 abstracts. He has also contributed to over 300 studies and clinical trials, focusing primarily in the area of vaccine development.

Flu Vaccine Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recently lowered the age for flu shot recipients to six months and older. They believe the vaccine supply will be sufficient.

The flu can be a serious and even life-threatening disease. Last year a number of previously healthy children died from the flu. These children didn't have to die.

American Family Physician, 09/15/10
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Article Details
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Author:Reisinger, Keith S.
Publication:Pediatrics for Parents
Article Type:Disease/Disorder overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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