Meningitis Myths and Facts

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 one year of age, anyone can get meningococcal disease. In addition, adolescents and college freshmen who live in dormitories are 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. The vaccine protects against a disease that kills 10 percent of adolescents who get it and leaves another 11 to 20 percent with severe, long-term health problems.

Myth:

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

Fact:

Meningococcal disease is rare, but in fact, the risk of getting it increases in adolescents and young adults. The disease can progress rapidly, killing an otherwise healthy adolescent 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 March 2015