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Meningitis is a medical term meaning "inflammation of the meninges" which are membranes enclosing the human brain and spinal column. Neisseria meningitis is one of many bacteria that cause the disease. Viruses can cause meningitis as well. The bacteria cause illness sporadically, either as isolated cases or epidemics. There are nine types of N. meningitis. Types A, B, and C cause more than 90 percent of meningococcal disease globally.

How Meningitis Spread

Humans are the only known reservoir for N. meningitis. The organism is spread primarily through intimate contact with the nasopharyngeal secretions of an infected person (i.e., through kissing, mouth to mouth resuscitation, sharing eating utensils, sharing smoking materials, sharing beverages). N. meningitis is extremely sensitive to drying and cooling and rarely survives outside the body for more than a few minutes. If the organism is coughed onto a desk and remains there for a minute or longer, it will dry out and die.


Symptoms include an intense headache, fever, nausea and stiff neck, sometimes accompanied by a rash; delirium and coma can occur in severe cases.

Meningitis VaccineTreatment and Prevention

Antimicrobial agents to which the organisms are sensitive are usually prescribed for N. meningitis patients. Dosage and treatment length vary. A vaccine is available to people in high-risk groups. Close contacts of an infected individual are typically given a regimen of antibiotics. In an outbreak, health officials sometimes vaccinate those individuals most at risk of contracting the disease.

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New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
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