Speaking of Your Health: Meningococcal disease

Bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis causes meningococcal disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 10 people have these bacteria in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms of disease; this is called being ‘a carrier’.

But sometimes the bacteria invades the body and cause certain illnesses, which are known as meningococcal disease. Five serogroups (types) of Neisseria meningitidis — A, B, C, W, and Y — cause the most disease worldwide. Three of these serogroups (B, C, and Y) cause most of the illness seen in the United States.

Meningococcal bacteria are spread to other people by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Fortunately, they are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or the flu and it takes close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact to spread these bacteria. People do not catch them through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been.

The CDC shares that some people are at increased risk for meningococcal disease. Doctors more commonly diagnose meningococcal disease in infants, teens, and young adults. Infectious diseases also tend to spread wherever large groups of people gather together.

Several college campuses have reported outbreaks of serogroup B meningococcal disease during the last several years. Certain medical conditions and medications put people at increased risk of meningococcal disease. They include not having a spleen, having a complement component deficiency, and being infected with HIV. Travelers to the meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa may be at risk for meningococcal disease.

When someone has meningococcal meningitis, the bacteria infect the protective membranes covering their brain and spinal cord and cause swelling. The most common symptoms include fever, headache and stiff neck. There are often additional symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light) and altered mental status (confusion).

Although uncommon, meningococcal disease moves fast and is potentially fatal. In as few as 24 hours, the symptoms related to meningococcal disease can lead to death. About 10-15 percent die from complications associated with meningococcal disease and 11-19 percent may suffer permanent consequences, including seizures, limb loss, kidney damage, hearing loss and skin scarring.

Luckily, there are vaccines available for the most common illness-causing strains. The vaccine that protects against serogroups A, C, W, and Y is now required for those entering 7th and 12th grades at Ohio public schools. There is a separate vaccine available for serogroup B. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends Meningococcal B vaccination for individuals ages 16-23 years, and especially for those ages 16-18 years old. It is important to note that serogroup B causes about 30 percent of all cases of meningococcal illness.

For more information about meningococcal disease or vaccination, contact the Hocking County Health Department at 740-385-3030 or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.

Brittney Tschudy, BSH, RN, TTS Hocking County Health Department writes a weekly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.

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