Menin-what? What You Don’t Know about Meningitis Could Be Deadly

First Fridays in First Person.  National Immunization Month is a good time to bring attention to Meningococcal Disease,

Amy Purdy

Amy Purdy, Meningococcal Disease survivor

which includes meningitis and blood infection.  “Menin-what?” you say.  Meningitis is the swelling of tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.  Meningitis caused by the meningococcal bacteria though rare, can be especially dangerous.   Amy Purdy, a survivor of meningococcal disease bears witness to this fact (pictured at right, click image to hear her story).

“I lost both of my legs, my kidneys, my spleen, part of my hearing, and almost my life to meningitis. And I’m one of the lucky ones,” she says.

What are the symptoms?

One reason why meningococcal meningitis is so dangerous is the fact that the early symptoms can be general and flu-like.  Progressing quickly, however, it has the potential to cause death within 24 hours.  A person could suffer from some or all of the following early signs and symptoms:

  • severe headaches
  • painfully stiff neck
  • high fever
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • sensitivity to light
  • nausea and vomiting
  • numbness of hands and feet
  • rash

Recognition of any of these symptoms warrants a call to your doctor or health care provider.  The death rates from meningococcal meningitis can be as much as five times greater in adolescents and young adults (15 to 24 years of age) as compared to other age groups.  This puts them at a significantly greater risk for meningococcal meningitis.

Can it be prevented?

Because meningococcal meningitis is spread from person to person through close contact, common daily activities such as sharing drinking glasses and eating utensils, kissing, and living in close quarters should be avoided or minimized.  The CDC recommends routine vaccination (one dose of MCV4) for all adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18 years of age as a safe and effective way to prevent meningococcal meningitis.  In fact, many states mandate this vaccine along with others in order to attend elementary and secondary schools.

Still have more questions?

Check out the CDC video “Have you heard?”


National Meningitis Association. What is meningitis.

Granoff DM, Harrison LH, Borrow R. Meningococcal vaccines. In: Plotkin SA, Orenstein WA, eds.Vaccines. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Co.; 2008.


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