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Meningococcal disease is a severe and potentially life-threatening illness due to bacterial infection that causes:
Some people (5-10 percent) carry the meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat without becoming ill. For persons who develop meningococcal disease, the illness may occur suddenly and get worse rapidly.
The incubation period (time from exposure to having symptoms) varies from 1 – 10 days, most commonly 3 – 4 days.
Spread is not common and occurs when close, face-to-face contact allows saliva from someone with meningococcal disease or someone carrying the meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat to get in the nose or throat of another person. Persons who may have had contact with an infected person’s saliva are at increased risk of getting meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease is not spread by casual contact, such as in a normal school classroom, office or work setting. The meningococcal bacteria do not live for more than a few minutes outside the body, so infection is not spread as easily as the common cold or influenza.
Complications include severe tissue damage that may require limb amputation, deafness, brain damage, nervous system problems and death. Nearly 10-14 percent of people with meningococcal disease die from their infection.
Two vaccines are available to prevent meningococcal disease, Menactra (MCV4) and Menomune (MPSV4).
More information on bacterial meningitis is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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