How Do You Get Meningococcal Disease?

Reviewed on 3/22/2022
A person's right hand shown with meningococcemia rash
Meningococcal disease is caught by close and prolonged contact (living in the same household or kissing) with the mucus of an infected person.
  • Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious and potentially life-threatening infection caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. It can lead to severe blood infections. When the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (called the “meninges”) are affected, it is called meningitis
  • Meningococcal disease is a contagious illness transmitted by close and prolonged contact (such as living in the same household or kissing) with the mucus of an infected person.
  • Up to 10% of people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat and do not get sick.
  • Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are only able to live outside of the body for a few seconds, and the disease is not transmitted by casual contact or from the environment. 

What Are Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease?

Symptoms of meningococcal disease can appear very quickly, usually three to four days after being infected, though it can take up to 10 days for symptoms to develop.   

Get to a hospital’s emergency department for medical treatment if you experience symptoms of meningococcal disease such as: 

Other symptoms of meningococcal disease include: 

  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Muscles aches or soreness
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Difficulty walking, sometimes falling
  • Difficulty talking
  • Grunting or moaning

Additional symptoms of meningococcal disease in young children may include: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Refusal to feed 
  • Extreme tiredness or floppiness 
  • Fits or twitching

How Is Meningococcal Disease Diagnosed?

Early diagnosis of meningococcal disease is important because the illness can lead to death quickly if not treated.

After a patient’s history and physical examination, if meningococcal disease is suspected, testing to diagnose the illness may include: 

  • Cerebrospinal fluid tests
  • Blood tests
  • Joint fluid tests

What Is the Treatment for Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease usually needs to be treated in a hospital, and treatment includes antibiotics

Some patients will need to be in an intensive care unit (ICU). 

What Are Complications of Meningococcal Disease?

About 10 to 15 percent of people infected with meningococcal disease will die. As many as 20% of survivors of meningococcal disease will have complications of the illness, such as:

Reviewed on 3/22/2022
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