Sexual health awareness is an essential aspect of overall well-being for both men and women.
You’ve likely heard of meningococcal meningitis, but do you know what causes it? Neisseria meningitidis is the bacterium behind meningitis, though recently, it’s evolved to become a cause of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Because of the long-term medical treatments and severe effects associated with meningitis, this contagious development warrants serious concerns among medical professionals and the general public. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about Neisseria meningitidis from our professional team at Rapid STD Testing, including what it is, how you could contract it, who has the highest risks, and how to prevent the spread.
What Is Neisseria Meningitidis?
What is Neisseria meningitidis? Neisseria meningitidis is a bacterium that causes meningococcal disease, different meningitidis strains (serotypes), sepsis, and, recently, sexually transmitted infections. The diseases caused by Neisseria meningitidis are severe and often fatal.
Neisseria meningitidis evolved to become a cause of STDs by shedding their outer capsule coatings to stick better to different mucosal surfaces. The bacteria also developed stronger enzymes to grow in environments with low oxygen levels.
Approximately 5 to 10% of people can carry Neisseria meningitidis in their throats without symptoms. The bacteria spreads through saliva contact, which may happen from coughing, kissing, touching, living together, sharing drinks, and more. When the bacteria enter other body parts and develop into meningitis, they infect the spinal cord, brain, and bloodstream.
In 2015, over 100 people in Columbus, Ohio, began reporting painful urination, which doctors presumed was gonorrhea (continue learning about the origins of gonorrhea). The outbreaks initially remained undetected during blood sampling due to the evolved capsule bacteria. Similar to the pneumococcal serotypes, the designation of serotypes for Neisseria meningitidis usually relies on examining the capsule.
Meningococcal disease symptoms typically begin after three or four days and include the following:
- Sudden fever spikes
- Neck stiffness
- Exhaustion and weakness
- Light sensitivity
If the bacteria spread into critical body parts, developing into meningitis, infected individuals risk permanent hearing, kidney, and brain damage. Some surviving patients may also need limb amputations. Out of all meningococcal disease sufferers, 10 to 15% die of the disease.
How Do You Get Neisseria Meningitidis?
The bacteria can spread from person to person in several ways, making meningitis and other associated infections highly contagious. People spread the bacteria through saliva.
When droplets of spit move through the air, you might inhale the bacteria. While one in ten people might feel fine walking around with Neisseria meningitidis in their nasal cavity, the other nine suffer an extreme risk due to the proximity to their spinal cord, brain, and other vital regions.
Common causes of Neisseria meningitidis include:
- Being near an infected individual who coughs or sneezes
- Sharing drinks with someone who has Neisseria meningitidis
- Engaging in sexual activities with an infected person
- Kissing, touching, or being near someone who’s sick.
Time is critical when treating this infection. An early diagnosis of meningitis can save your life. If you think you might have it, contact your doctor immediately.
If unsure what you have, we recommend ordering a 10-panel STD test from Rapid STD Testing and visiting a local clinic to speak with a medical professional about your action plan. We offer discreet and fast results so you can get ahead on treatment.
Who Is at Risk of Catching Neisseria Meningitidis?
Anyone, regardless of age, gender, or location, can get Neisseria meningitidis, though certain groups of people have increased risks, including:
- Anyone who lives in sub-Saharan Africa: Also known as the “meningitis belt,” the sub-Saharan section of Africa has the highest number of reported meningococcal disease cases worldwide. Anyone who lives in this region or travels to it must practice extreme caution and receive the necessary vaccines. The bacteria becomes most dangerous from December to June, known as the “dry season.”
- Teenagers: Teens frequently spend more time in high-risk areas like schools, gyms, sporting facilities, pools, etc. Make sure your teen knows not to share their straw with friends.
- Infants: Babies under one don’t have fully developed immune systems and cannot fight off certain bacteria. Most infants can’t receive the proper vaccines to ward off these illnesses until they’re older. Mothers at risk for meningitis should quarantine their children to keep them safe.
- People who live in group settings: Anyone who lives with a large group comes in contact with more bacteria and foreign bodily fluids daily. Group settings might include prisons, camps, boarding schools, daycares, nursing homes, college dorms, military housing, and more.
- Sickle cell disease patients: Anyone with sickle cell disease or a damaged spleen experiences a greater risk of meningitis.
- Immuno-compromised people: If you have conditions that suppress your immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria, you should practice extra caution to avoid Neisseria meningitis complications.
- Anyone who experienced a potential exposure: If you were around an infected person, watch out for the initial symptoms and contact your doctor if you notice any.
- Sexually active adults: Anyone who practices unsafe sex could contract meningitis through sexual activities.
Doctors often have difficulty diagnosing meningitis since it mimics the symptoms of other illnesses. A confirmed diagnosis requires a blood test.
Management and Prevention
If you visit the hospital soon enough after getting meningitis, you could achieve a full recovery. Treatment usually begins with antibiotics, though depending on the severity, patients frequently need additional support mechanisms. Sometimes symptom management includes:
- Breathing support
- Blood pressure medications
- Dead tissue removal surgery
- Wound and damaged skin treatments
The best way to survive Neisseria meningitidis is to avoid it altogether. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all 11- to 12-year-olds receive the Meningococcal ACWY vaccine (MenACWY), which includes the necessary bactericidal antibodies. At 16, they should receive a booster for the same vaccine.
The CDC also recommends that anyone ages 16 to 18 receive the Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (MenB). Depending on travel plans and risks, younger kids or older adults might also need one of these vaccines or a booster. You should consult with your doctor about the best plan for your needs.
Total country engagement in these vaccines could also reduce the spread of the bacteria and help keep the population safe. Even if you don’t live in or travel to high-risk areas, you should receive the proper vaccinations so that you don’t accidentally infect others with meningitis.
Another way to reduce the spread of common diseases is receiving regular STD tests. You can order online same-day STD testing from Rapid STD Testing or visit a local clinic. Learning about your condition helps you avoid giving it to a partner by accident.
Learn More About Neisseria Meningitidis Bacteria
Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are incredibly dangerous and contagious. Learning how Neisseria meningitidis evolve and spread helps you avoid contracting the illness. To prevent spreading harmful bacterial infections, practice safe sex and stay informed by ordering a rapid STD test from Rapid STD Testing today at one of our STD testing centers across the US.