The meningococcus causes meningitis (an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord), infections of the blood (meningococcemia) and other body sites (for example, joints). These infections may lead to death.
Meningococci are spread by direct, close contact with saliva, mucus, or droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person. Many people carry the bacteria in their noses and throats, but they do not become ill – they are called “carriers.” These carriers can spread the germ to other people.
Symptoms occur within 2 to 10 days (usually 3 to 4 days) after the person has been exposed; symptoms often begin suddenly.
People who think they may have an infection due to the meningococcus should see a doctor immediately. Treatment with an antibiotic should be started right away to stop the infection from causing brain damage or death. Lab tests are needed to prove infection with meningococcus.
Check with your doctor or your local health department for advice. Preventive treatment with certain antibiotics is recommended and should not be delayed. Your doctor or health department will decide which medicine is best in your situation.
Check with your doctor or your local health department to see if you should get the vaccine. The vaccine protects a person for less than five years, and it does not protect against all types of the disease. The vaccine is recommended for certain high risk groups (for example, military recruits, travelers to high risk areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, and persons without a spleen) and to help control some outbreaks. It is not a routine childhood shot. In Maryland, vaccination of all college students who live on-campus in a dormitory is required.
MD Department of Health & Mental Hygiene – Epidemiology & Disease Control Program