Meningitis Myths and Facts for Consumers

Myth:

Meningococcal disease is easy to diagnose.

Fact:

Meningococcal disease is often misdiagnosed as something less serious because early symptoms are similar to influenza and other common viral illnesses. Symptoms may include some combination of high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and a purplish rash. If any of these symptoms are present and are unusually sudden, progressive or severe, call a physician immediately.

Myth:

Meningococcal disease is only dangerous in young children.

Fact:

While it is most common in infants younger than 1 year of age, anyone can get meningococcal disease. In addition, adolescents and college freshmen who live in dormitories appear to be at increased risk of getting meningococcal disease.

Myth:

You can get very sick from the conjugate meningococcal vaccine.

Fact:

The vaccine does not contain any live bacteria so it is impossible to get meningococcal disease from the vaccination. Side effects, which are mild and infrequent, are redness or swelling at the site of injection that could last for up to two days. Parents should talk to their child's health care provider to determine whether vaccination is right for them.

Myth:

Healthy adolescents and young adults don't have to worry about contracting meningococcal disease.

Fact:

Meningococcal disease incidence is cyclical. In the United States, ten year data (1998-2007) show an average of approximately 1,500 cases per year, with a range of 900 to 2,960 cases.

The disease can progress rapidly, killing an otherwise healthy young person in 48 hours.

Myth:

Meningococcal disease is spread by casual contact with an infected person, such as shaking hands.

Fact:

Meningococcal meningitis is spread through air droplets and direct contact with an infected person. It is not spread through casual contact.

Revised February 2012