Keeping an eye on meningitis

The growing concern around meningitis and what you can do to prevent infection.

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The brain has three layers that serve to cover and protect it from trauma and disease, collectively called the meninges. Meningitis is a preventable but serious infection resulting from inflammation of the fluid and meninges surrounding the brain. It is spread when people share prolonged contact with an infected person’s throat or respiratory droplets such as saliva or spit when coughing or kissing, for example. 

On March 28, 2024, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement warning healthcare professionals of a recent increase in meningococcal disease in the United States. As of March 2024, the CDC reported 143 cases of meningitis in the United States, compared to just 81 cases reported by this same time in 2023. The CDC also reports that the current dominant strain of meningitis disproportionately affects those 30-60 years old, those living with HIV, and Black or African American people. Those who live with an infected person, such as a roommate or family member, are also at an increased risk of contracting meningitis.

While meningitis is rare, it is a serious infection that can lead to death in 10-15% of cases, often within the first 24 to 48 hours after symptoms begin. The most common cause in the United States is from a viral infection, although meningitis can also be caused by bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Common symptoms of meningitis include a high fever, photophobia, severe headache, neck stiffness, confusion, and vomiting. Timely medical care and antibiotic administration is central to treatment for yourself and those who have been around you for a prolonged period of time.

An important step to protect yourself and others from contracting meningitis is to ensure you are vaccinated against all five types of meningococcal bacteria most likely to cause meningococcal meningitis: A–B–C–W–Y. Learn more about recommended meningococcal vaccines that are available for use in the United States. 

The CDC recommends that meningococcal vaccines be given starting as early as two months or 10 years old, depending on the individual situation. Vaccines are also encouraged for adults, particularly for those living in close quarters with others, such as college dorms. To determine the exact age and what vaccine is right for you or your child, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your options.

Help finding a doctor:

If you need help finding a doctor, try searching for primary care physicians in your area that are highly recommended, search your insurance provider’s website for doctors in your network, or ask for recommendations from friends and neighbors. There are also search engines that can help you narrow your search based on region and specialty needed.

Where can you find vaccines?

To find a vaccine, check with your primary care physician, local health departments, pharmacies, and clinics. You can also visit to locate a vaccine clinic near you.

If you would like to learn more about vaccines, check out Michigan State University Extension’s Michigan Vaccine Project to find links to event schedules, podcasts, publications, webinars, and videos relating to vaccine education.

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