A resident of a homeless shelter in Seattle tested positive for bacterial meningitis (meningococcal disease) on March 18. The patient, a man in his 60s, is hospitalized and his condition is improving. The bacteria that causes meningococcal disease spreads through direct contact with infectious saliva or respiratory droplets (e.g. being coughed, sneezed or spit on, sharing utensils, bottles, cigarettes or pipes). Fortunately, these bacteria are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or the flu. People do not catch them through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been, so the risk of spread of bacterial meningitis to the general public is very low. Public health disease investigators are working with shelter staff to identify staff and other residents who might be at risk. Those at risk can receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease if they are identified promptly.
“At this time we have a single case of meningitis, not an outbreak, and the risk to the public is low,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “We are taking steps to provide treatment for people who had close contact with the case and will be prepared for additional action if other cases occur.”
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Several types of bacteria and viruses can cause meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis, caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, is often severe and can be deadly. These bacteria can also cause blood stream infections. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are very important.
Who is at higher risk
Staff and other residents of the shelters where the patient spent time might be at risk if they shared saliva with the patient (e.g., through kissing or shared drinks, utensils, cigarettes) or had sexual contact or other lengthy, close contact with the patient during the contagious period. Anyone who stayed at St. Martin Deporres shelter or Lazarus Day Center from Tuesday, 3/6/18, through Friday, 3/16/18, should talk to staff or nurses at those shelters to get more information. You can also call 206-296-4774 to find out if you are at risk.
About bacterial meningitis (meningococcal disease)
Several types of meningococcal bacteria can cause disease in individuals. Rarely, these bacteria can cause outbreaks. Meningococcal disease most commonly affects infants, teens, and young adults. People with certain medical conditions and medications are also at increased risk. They include not having a spleen, having complement component deficiency (an immune system condition), and being infected with HIV.
Vaccines that protect against some of the types of meningococcal disease are recommended for:
- pre-teens and teens
- certain infants, children and adults with underlying health conditions
- during outbreaks.
Over the past five years, Public Health – Seattle & King County has received 0-3 reports of meningococcal meningitis each year.
For more information on meningococcal disease, go to Public Health’s webpage. For more on meningococcal vaccines, see information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Originally posted on March 20, 2018.