The meningococcal bacteria colonize in the nose and throat and the infection is transmitted through direct contact with droplets from saliva and mucus. Humans are the only known host. Between 15-25% of the general population can be healthy carriers. Healthy or asymptomatic carriers have the bacteria in their nose or throat, but are not ill. They do not exhibit the symptoms but can spread the infection to other people by sharing saliva or mucus. The carriage rate may be much higher in epidemic situations.
Anything you share that has been in someone else’s mouth will transmit the bacteria. Kissing, sharing cigarettes, food, drinks, lip gloss, woodwind musical instruments, mouth guards, toothbrushes, or toys can all spread the disease. Close and prolonged contact as in living in close quarters, dormitories, military barracks can facilitate the spread of the disease. The average incubation period is about 4 days, but can range between 2 and 10 days.
Though meningitis is not airborne, infection can occur if a person sneezes when someone close is yawning and has their mouth open. Droplets of saliva from a healthy carrier can infect another person. You CAN NOT get meningitis by being in the same room or breathing the air where an infected person has been.
Meningococcal disease occurs most often in late winter and early spring. People with weaken immune systems are at a greater risk of contracting bacterial meningitis. The bacteria attach to the mucosal lining of the nose and throat where they can multiply. They penetrate the mucosal lining and for reasons not fully understood the bacteria sometimes overwhelm the body’s defenses allowing infection to spread into the CSF and the bloodstream. It travels rapidly throughout the body and can cause damage to all the vital organs.