By Sherry Hayman, Public Health Nurse
Bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis cause meningococcal disease. About 1 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 invade the body and cause certain illnesses, which are known as meningococcal disease.
There are five serogroups (types) of Neisseria meningitidis — A, B, C, W, and Y — that cause most disease worldwide. Three of these serogroups (B, C, and Y) cause most of the illness seen in the United States.
People spread meningococcal bacteria to other people by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Generally, it takes close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact to spread these bacteria. Fortunately, they are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or the flu.
People do not catch them through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been.
Sometimes the bacteria spread to people who have had close or lengthy contact with a patient with meningococcal disease. Those at increased risk of getting sick include:
• People who live with the patient
• Anyone with direct contact with the patient’s oral secretions, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend
Close contacts of someone with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to help prevent them from getting the disease. This is known as prophylaxis (pro-fuh-lak-sis). Health departments investigate each case of meningococcal disease to identify all close contacts and make sure they receive prophylaxis. This does not mean that the contacts have the disease; it is to prevent it. People who are not a close contact of a patient with meningococcal disease do not need prophylaxis.
Vaccines are available that can help prevent meningococcal disease, which is any type of illness caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available in the United States:
• Meningococcal conjugate vaccines (Menactra® and Menveo®)
• Serogroup B meningococcal vaccines (Bexsero® and Trumenba®)
All 11 to 12 year olds should be vaccinated with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine. A booster dose is recommended at age 16 years. Teens and young adults (16 through 23 year olds) also may be vaccinated with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine. In certain situations, other children and adults could be recommended to get meningococcal vaccines.
Talk with your or your child’s healthcare professional if you have questions about meningococcal vaccines.
CDC recommends routine meningococcal conjugate vaccination for:
• All preteens and teens at 11 to 12 years old with a booster dose at 16
• Children and adults at increased risk for meningococcal disease
CDC recommends routine serogroup B meningococcal vaccination for
• People 10 years or older at increased risk for meningococcal disease
The Meigs County Health Department offers these vaccines as well as others to keep you healthy. Immunization clinics are held every Tuesday from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. Other days by appointment. Please bring insurance card, medical card, and shot records at time of visit.