Meningococcal Disease Information

Effective July 1, 2005, Indiana state law (IC 20-30-5-18) mandates that schools distribute materials concerning Meningococcal disease and it’s vaccines to students and parents/guardians of students each school year.
Meningitis Facts
What exactly is meningitis? 
Meningitis is an infection of the tissue and sometimes the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The infection causes swelling of the brain tissue and sometimes the spinal tissue. When the brain tissue swells, less blood and oxygen reach the brain cells, thus producing the symptoms of meningitis.

Meningitis is caused most often by a virus or bacteria. 80%-90% of people who get the viral meningitis are infected with a virus that commonly live in a person’s intestine, (enterovirus). Enteroviruses usually don’t cause illness, however, they can cause meningitis when they are passed from one infected person to another through food, water, or contaminated objects. 80% of people who get bacterial meningitis get it from 1 of 3 types of bacteria. These bacteria often live in a person’s body (most often in the nose and throat) without causing illness. However, the bacteria can cause meningitis if it gets into the blood and travels to the spinal fluid or the tissue that surrounds the brain or spinal cord. These bacteria can be passed from one person to another through infected saliva or mucous

Exactly how is meningitis spread? 
The organism that causes meningitis can be passed from one person to another by coughing and sneezing, transmission of saliva, mucous, or contact with infected blood. However, just because a person is exposed to the organism does not mean that the person will contract the infection.

How do you know if a person has meningitis? 
The symptoms of bacterial meningitis usually develop suddenly, and the symptoms of viral meningitis may develop suddenly or gradually over the course of several days. The most common symptoms of both forms of meningitis are fever, severe and persistent headaches, stiff and painful neck (especially when trying to touch chin to chest), vomiting, confusion, and seizures. Other symptoms may include sluggishness, muscle aches and weakness, strange feelings like tingling throughout the body, eye sensitivity to light, skin rashes, dizziness, and mood swings. The course that meningitis takes often depends on the person’s age, general state of health, and what organism caused the infection. The illness can range from mild to severe. Viral meningitis is most common in the late summer and early fall and usually does not cause serious illness. A person with viral meningitis can usually be treated at home and will recover within 2 weeks. Bacterial meningitis usually occurs in late winter to early spring. It usually causes a severe illness and can be life-threatening. A person with bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics in a hospital setting.

What can you as parents/guardians do to protect your child? 
First and foremost, make sure that all of your child’s immunizations are up to date. This is the most effective way to prevent illness. The vaccines that are directly related to meningitis are Measles, Mumps, and Rubella, Varicella (chicken pox), and the HIB vaccine. Also, encourage your child to follow simple safety precautions such as not sharing drinks or eating utensils, not touching their mouth to drinking fountains, and good hand washing techniques. Above all, do not panic. If your child complains of signs of meningitis, it does not necessarily mean that they have meningitis. The safest thing to do is to have your child examined by a medical doctor.