My Name is Meningitis

Hi, my name is meningitis and it’s nice to meet you. I think it’s time that I introduce myself, especially if you are the parent of an adolescent or teen. Let me tell you a little bit about myself and what I’ve been busy doing the past several years…

  • What am I? I am an uncommon but potentially deadly infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. There are five groups—A, B, C, W, and Y—that cause the majority of this disease and for which vaccines are available in the United States.[7] Specifically, group B or MenB accounted for 69% of all meningococcal disease cases in US adolescents and young adults in 2017.[1]
  • Who is most likely to meet me? Teens and adolescents are one of the more at-risk populations for meningococcal disease, given their phase of life and because they can carry these bacteria in the back of the throat.[2] Innocent actions such as sharing a drink, a meal, or even a kiss with their significant other are all typical behaviors for teens; however, these could lead to transmission of bacteria that cause this very serious disease.[2]
  • What else should you know? Meningococcal disease can attack without warning,[3],[4] and progress rapidly with early flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, and vomiting that may be difficult to distinguish from other more common infections.[2]

What have I been doing?

During the past several years—between 2011 and 2018—one of my groups, MenB has caused all outbreaks of meningococcal disease at US colleges.[5] You may have heard about me in the news from outbreaks on university campuses including Rutgers University, Oregon State University, and Princeton University.

How do you help protect your teen or adolescent against me?

Good question! There are two distinct vaccines that help protect against these different groups of meningococcal disease: one vaccine that helps protect against groups A, C, W and Y, and a second vaccine that helps protect against group B.[8] While parents may believe their teen is protected against meningococcal disease after receiving their MenACWY vaccination, it’s important that their teen also receive the separate vaccination to help protect against MenB. As of 2018 in the U.S., only 17.2% of 17-year-old adolescents had started a multi-dose MenB vaccination series.[6]

It’s critical for parents to be educated about meningococcal disease, including MenB, so you can recognize the risk factors, signs and symptoms—and even help prevent it. If you have questions about how to help protect your adolescent or teen against meningococcal disease, including MenB, the first and best step you can take is to talk to your child’s health care provider. To learn more, please visit where you can learn important information about me. This is sponsored in partnership with Pfizer.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal disease. Enhanced meningococcal disease surveillance report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed June 2019.

[2] Tully J, Viner RM, Coen FG, et al. Risk and protective factors for meningococcal disease in adolescents: matched cohort study. BMJ. 2006;232(7539):445-450.

[3] Poland GA. Prevention of meningococcal disease: current use of polysaccharide and conjugate vaccines. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50:S45-S53.

[4] Serogroup B Meningococcal (MenB) VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website. Updated August 9, 2016. Accessed June 2019.

[5] Soeters H, McNamara L, Blain A, et al. University-Based Outbreaks of Meningococcal Disease Caused by Serogroup B, United States, 2013–2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 2019.

[6] Walker, TY, et al. (2019). National, Regional, State, and Selected Local Area Vaccination Coverage Among Adolescents Aged 13–17 Years — United States, 2018. Accessed at MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 68(33): 718-723.

[7] Enhanced meningococcal disease surveillance report, 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 2019.

[8] Meningococcal Vaccines for Preteens, Teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 2019.

[9] Thompson MJ, Ninis N, Perera R, et al. Clinical recognition of meningococcal disease in children and adolescents. Lancet. 2006;367(9508):397-403.

[10] Borg J, Christie D, Coen PG, Pooy R, Viner RM. Outcomes of meningococcal disease in adolescence: prospective, matched-cohort study. Pediatrics. 2009;123:e502-e509.

[11] Sabatini C, Bosis S, Semino M, Senatore L, Principi N, Esposito S. Clinical presentation of meningococcal disease in childhood. J Prev Med Hyg. 2012;53:116-119.

[12] Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger. US Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 2019.

The Call That Changed My Life: A Mother Shares Her Meningitis Story

SheriPurdyWatching your child fight for her life is the worst possible experience a parent could ever have. It was by far the worst time in my life.

My name is Sheri Purdy. You may know my daughter, Amy Purdy, a world class snowboarder, Paralympic®* medalist, philanthropist, and – just last year – a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars®**.” Today, Amy is a thriving and accomplished young woman, but when she was only 19, she contracted meningococcal meningitis and almost didn’t make it. It changed our lives forever.

I remember it was a summer day when Amy came home from work early and said she wasn’t feeling well and was extremely tired. That night, Amy had a temperature of 101 with typical flu-like symptoms. The next morning, thinking it was just the flu, I had left to meet my husband out of town. Just a few hours later I received a phone call from a hospital saying Amy might not make it through the night.

It took about 72 hours to get the diagnosis, because it takes that long for the culture to come back. The doctors gave her many antibiotics because they didn’t know what they were dealing with. Her life was so fragile. Minute by minute we were just holding our breath, praying. After receiving the diagnosis that Amy had meningococcal meningitis, it was so shocking and we were all in disbelief. It was hard to believe that what started out to seem like the flu had progressed so quickly.

Amy was in the hospital for about two and a half months, including five days during which she was in an induced coma. She lost her spleen, kidney function, and hearing in her left ear. Due to the septic shock she developed, Amy ended up losing both of her legs below the knees.

While not all meningococcal meningitis patients’ stories are as extreme as Amy’s, we feel blessed to have our daughter. In 1999, when Amy got meningococcal meningitis, no vaccines for this disease were widely recommended. Since then, I have become very educated on the topic and want everyone to know the following:

  • Early symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can be misinterpreted as the flu[i]
  • 1 in 10 of those who develop meningococcal disease will die[ii]
  • There are five common forms of bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis – A, B, C, W and Y[iii]
  • Until 2014, there was no vaccine to help protect against invasive meningococcal group B disease in the United States, which accounts for approximately 40% of all cases[iv]

Moms take the health of their families very seriously, which is why I wanted to share our story – so that it will spark a conversation between you, your child and a healthcare professional. I encourage each of you to learn more about how to help protect your adolescent and young adult children from meningococcal meningitis by talking to a healthcare provider or by going to and pledging to do so.

[i] Mayo Clinic. Diseases and conditions: meningitis. Accessed February 11, 2015.

[ii] Cohn AC, MacNeil JR, Harrison LH, et al. Changes in Neisseria meningitidis disease epidemiology in the United States, 1998-2007: implications for prevention of meningococcal disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50(2):184-191.

[iii] Pinto VB, Burden R, Wagner A, Moran EE, Lee C. The Development of an Experimental Multiple Serogroups Vaccine for Neisseria meningitidis. PLoS ONE. 2013; 8(11):1-10.

[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active Bacterial Core Surveillance (ABCs) Report Emerging Infections Program Network – Neisseria meningitidis, 2012. Accessed February 11, 2015.

Sheri Purdy is a meningitis activist and mother of world-class snowboarder and meningococcal meningitis survivor Amy Purdy. Sheri and Amy have launched Take Action Against Meningitis with Pfizer to help educate about meningococcal meningitis. For each pledge, Pfizer will donate $1 – up to $20,000 – to Adaptive Action Sports, the not-for-profit organization Amy co-founded to help young people, wounded veterans and adults with permanent physical disabilities get involved in action sports.