Vaccinate Your Baby

Meningococcal Disease

Click on the photo above to open the Meningococcal Disease page from the Vaccine-Preventable Diseases eBook!

The Disease

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness caused by meningococcal bacteria. The most common form of meningococcal disease is meningitis. There are at least 12 types of meningococcal bacteria, which are called serogroups. Serogroups A, B, C, W, and Y cause most meningococcal disease.

When someone has meningococcal meningitis, the lining covering their brain and spinal cord becomes infected and swells, which can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, and learning problems. Meningococcal meningitis can be fatal and deaths can occur in as little as a few hours. The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. Often, there are also additional symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, and confusion. The symptoms of meningitis can appear quickly or over several days, and usually develop within 3-7 days after being exposed to the bacteria. In infants, the symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to notice. Instead the infant may appear to be slow or inactive, irritable, vomiting or feeding poorly. In young children, doctors may also look at the child's reflexes, which can also be a sign of meningitis.

Meningococcal bacteria can also cause a serious and potentially fatal blood infection called sepsis. As with meningitis, deaths from sepsis can occur in as little as a few hours. In non-fatal cases, this infection can lead to the loss of an arm, leg or other parts of the body. Symptoms may include fatigue, vomiting, cold hands and feet, chills, severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or belly, rapid breathing, diarrhea, and in the later stages, a dark purple rash. Meningococcal disease spreads when a person has close or lengthy contact with an infected person's saliva (like through kissing or coughing), especially if they are living in the same place.

The Statistics

Each year in the U.S., approximately 800-1,200 people get meningococcal disease. Of those who get meningococcal disease 10-15% die, and among those who survive, approximately 1 in 5 live with permanent disabilities. Anyone can contract meningococcal disease but it is most commonly seen in infants less than 1 year old, in adolescents 16-21 years old, and in people with certain medical conditions, such as the lack of a spleen.

The Vaccine

The meningococcal vaccine offers the best protection against meningococcal disease (including meningitis and sepsis). The first dose of vaccine (MCV4), which protects against against serogroups A, C, W, and Y, is given to preetens when they are 11 or 12 years of age. The second dose of MCV4 is given at 16 years of age. First-year college students up through 21 years old who are living in residence halls should be vaccinated if they have not received a dose of MCV4 on or after their 16th birthday. In addition, those entering the military should be vaccinated before beginning basic training.

Meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for children between 2 months and 10 years old who are at increased risk of disease.

Adults with certain medical conditions such as a damaged or removed spleen, as well as adults traveling or residing in countries in which the disease is common, should also be vaccinated.

Recently, two new serotype B meningococcal vaccines (MenB) were approved by the FDA. The CDC recommends that people 10 years of age and older who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease receive MenB vaccine. Additionally, MenB vaccines may also be given to anyone 16 through 23 years old to provide short-term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal diseases. Ages 16 through 18 years are the preferred ages for vaccination.


Additional Resources

The recommended immunization schedules for children, teens and adults

Serogroup B Meningococcal (MenB) VIS

Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine (MCV4) VIS


Back to Vaccine-Preventable Diseases