Meningococcal is contagious

Causes and Risk Factors for Meningococcal Disease

Meningococci are gram-negative diplococci - that is, bacteria that occur in pairs, have an oval shape and are surrounded by a capsule. They are transmitted through droplet infection - for example through coughing, kissing or sharing glasses. As a rule, they are prevented from penetrating further into the body by the mucous membrane in the nasopharynx. If, however, they manage to overcome this protective wall, one speaks of a so-called invasive infection. Then the pathogens can lead to severe courses with meningitis (meningitis) and / or blood poisoning (sepsis).

Carriers can be carriers

Around 10% of the total population in Germany carry meningococci without getting sick. Nevertheless, they can pass the pathogen on to third parties, for example when sneezing, kissing or sharing glasses. Such passive carriers are most frequently found among young people - here the rate is over 20%. More than one in five young people can pass the pathogen on via droplet infection. Infection is thus possible virtually, anytime and anywhere.

Factors that favor the onset of the disease

In the vast majority of cases, the pathogen only colonizes the nasopharynx. It is not entirely clear which factors lead to invasive meningococcal disease in individual cases. It is known that, in addition to the bacterium's equipment, both environmental and host factors play a role. These include, for example:

  • Climatic conditions (e.g. low humidity, so that the mucous membranes tend to dry out), cramped living conditions or passive smoking
  • The age of those affected and their state of health (especially damaged mucous membranes due to infections of the upper respiratory tract, smoking or allergies are difficult for the pathogens to fight off). For example, in Germany the majority of meningococcal diseases occur in the winter months, although colds and flu are more common.

With regard to the infection route via droplets, contact persons of infected or sick people have a particularly high risk of developing a meningococcal infection themselves. In hospitals, therefore, strict hygiene regulations apply to doctors and nursing staff, such as wearing a gown that remains in the hospital room, wearing gloves and, if necessary, breathing masks.