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Meningitis Frequently Asked Questions


What is meningococcal meningitis and how is it transmitted?
Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection that attacks the brain and spinal cord, often leading to serious consequences. Even in previously healthy people, infection can progress to death in a matter of hours. The germ that causes meningococcal meningitis is contagious, but it is not spread as easily as the cold or flu. It can be spread through prolonged close contact with someone who is infected, and especially through intimate contact like kissing and sex.

Why now?
Usually children have the greatest risk of meningococcal meningitis, but there are occasional outbreaks among gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men). Currently, Florida is experiencing one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history. At least 24 cases and 6 deaths among gay and bisexual men have been reported.

How serious is bacterial meningitis?
If not treated quickly, bacterial meningitis can be very serious, leading rapidly to loss of consciousness, septic shock, and death. According to Florida health officials, 1 out of 4 men infected during the current outbreak have died.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can progress suddenly and may include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, as well as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, an altered mental state, and a dark purple rash.

What should I do if I have symptoms?
Seek treatment in an Emergency Room immediately if you experience these symptoms and believe you may have been exposed. People who are HIV-positive may be at greater risk of this disease.

How can it be treated?
Tests can confirm a diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis. If diagnosed early, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics. If care is delayed, it may be too late to treat successfully.

Is there a vaccine?
Yes, meningococcal vaccine is available. For those at risk of exposure to meningococcal meningitis, a booster dose is recommended every 5 years.

Should I get vaccinated?
We recommend that all men-who-have-sex-with men (gay and bisexual men) make sure they are up-to-date with their vaccination. That means a meningococcal vaccine within the last 5 years.

Can I get a vaccine at APLA Health?
APLA Health has the meningococcal vaccine at all of our medical clinics. Call for an appointment if you need a vaccine. If you already have a doctor or healthcare provider, you can ask them if they have the vaccine at their office. Many pharmacies that provide vaccines also have it available. You can ask either for “meningococcal vaccine” or for the brand name, Menactra. Most insurance plans cover the cost of the vaccine. For people without insurance coverage, clinics with free meningococcal vaccine can be found here.