Invasive meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that involves inflammation of the meninges of the brain and can lead to a serious blood infection. It is not easy to develop invasive meningococcal infection. You have to be susceptible and have regular close personal contact, such as sharing a toothbrush with or kissing person, who is colonizing meningococcal organisms.
Symptoms of invasive meningococcal infection include fever; severe headache; painful, stiff neck; nausea and vomiting; inability to look at bright lights; mental confusion and irritability; extreme fatigue/sleepiness; convulsions and unconsciousness. In babies, signs of “irritability” can include persistent crying or high pitched screaming with arching of the back, which are symptoms of encephalitis or brain inflammation.
In the U.S., invasive meningococcal incidence decreased by more than 60% between 1998 and 2007 and, today, there are between 1400 and 3,000 cases reported in the U.S. annually, which is an historic low.
Between 10% and 15% of meningococcal cases are fatal with another 10% to 20% ending with brain damage or loss of limbs. It is estimated that, annually, there are between 150 and 300 meningococcal deaths in the U.S. with an average of 16 babies under age 12 months dying from the disease;
At any given time, about 20 to 40 percent of Americans are asymptomatically colonizing meningococcal organisms in their nasal passages and throats, which throughout life boosts innate immunity to invasive meningococcal infection. Mothers, who have innate immunity, transfer maternal antibodies to their newborns to protect them in the first few months of life until babies can make their own antibodies. By the time American children enter adolescence, the vast majority have asymptomatically developed immunity that protects them;
A small minority of individuals, who have genetic and other unknown biological factors, which prevent them from naturally developing protective circulating antibodies, are up to 7,000 times more likely to get severe invasive meningococcal disease at some point in their lives;
In addition to genetic factors, high risk factors for developing invasive meningococcal infection include smoking or living in a home where people smoke; a recent respiratory infection; crowded living conditions, such as in military and prisons settings; alcohol use; and an underlying chronic illness, especially immune deficiencies such as lupus or HIV/AIDS;