The Hidden Threat of Meningococcal Disease

July 3, 2018

Some people live their lives unaware they are carrying an infectious disease that could have deadly consequences. The Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Texas Medicine magazine reports meningococcal disease — the spread of the Meningococcus bacteria from one person to another — can lead to meningitis, bloodstream infections, and other ailments. The disease kills 10 to 15 percent of infected people. Those younger than 1 year — but especially those between age 16 and 23 years old — are most commonly infected.

Doctors say underestimating the threat of Meningococcus bacteria has consequences. Most common is meningitis, an infection of the lining covering the brain and spinal cord. Some people have contracted meningitis and died within hours of suffering its first symptoms. 

It is very serious. Symptoms such as a sudden fever, headache, chills, rapid breathing, and a stiff neck are all signs of the disease,” said Maria Monge, MD, an Austin pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. “In babies, slowness, inactivity, vomiting, or poor eating also point to the disease. This infection can result in limb amputations, brain damage, and even death within a few hours,” she said.

Meningococcal disease is spread by close contact, especially among teenagers and young adults in settings like college dormitories,” Dr. Monge said. Military barracks are another prime setting for people spreading the bacteria.

To prevent the spread of the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccinations for children and adults at increased risk for meningococcal disease. In addition, CDC recommends routine meningococcal vaccinations for all preteens and teens at 11 to 12 years old, and then a booster shot at age 16. Texas requires all new or transferring college students to show proof they received the booster.

“The best way to prevent meningococcal disease is to be vaccinated,” Dr. Monge said. “Two different vaccines are available to prevent this potential deadly infection.” She recommends people ask their physician for advice.

About 1 in 10 people, known as “carriers”, live normally with the bacteria in their nose and throat without showing any symptoms. Most carriers never become sick but can still spread the bacteria through saliva. A carrier’s close contact with others — including kissing, or coughing nearby — are common ways the disease spreads.

More information on meningococcal diseases, including a short video and printable infographic, can be found on the TMA website

This release is part of a monthly TMA series highlighting contagious diseases that childhood and adult vaccinations can prevent. TMA designed the series to inform patients of the facts about these diseases, and to help them understand the benefits of vaccinations to prevent illness.  Visit the TMA website for more on efforts to raise immunization awareness   and how funding is used to increase vaccination rates.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 51,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. Be Wise — ImmunizeSM is a joint initiative led by TMA physicians and medical students, and the TMA Alliance. It is funded in 2018 by the TMA Foundation thanks to H-E-B, TMF Health Quality Institute, Pfizer Inc., and gifts from physicians and their families. 

Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.


TMA Contacts:  
Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320; email: brent.annear[at]texmed[dot]org 
Marcus Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336; email: marcus.cooper[at]texmed[dot]org  

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Last Updated On

February 13, 2020

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