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Meningococcal Overview

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is any illness caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. These illnesses are often severe and deadly. They include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (septicemia). Infants, teens and young adults, and older adults have the highest rates of meningococcal disease in the United States.

You can get meningococcal disease when the bacteria invades your body and causes certain illnesses. This happens by:

  • Sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit).
  • Close, lengthy close contact such as coughing or kissing.
  • Being around someone who has meningococcal disease.

Read more about meningococcal disease and how it affects people on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

The two most common types of meningococcal infections are meningitis and septicemia. Both of these infections are very serious and can be deadly in a matter of hours.

Meningococcal meningitis symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Headache.
  • Confusion.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Meningococcal septicemia symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills.
  • Feeling tired (fatigue).
  • Vomiting.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest, or belly.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dark purple rash in later stages.

Who is at risk?

People at most risk for serious illness include:

  • Children younger than 1 year old.
  • Teens and young adults ages 16 through 23 years old.
  • Adults 65 years and older.
  • Those with weakened immune systems, such as HIV.
  • Those without a spleen (Asplenia).
  • Certain occupations such as microbiologists, college students, and military recruits.
  • Travelers to sub-Saharan Africa.

Limit the spread of meningococcal disease

The best way to prevent meningococcal disease is to keep up with recommended meningococcal vaccines. It is important to maintain healthy habits such as getting plenty of rest, and avoid having close contact with people who are sick with a meningococcal infection.

If you are in prolonged close contact with someone who has meningococcal illness, talk to your doctor about receiving antibiotics to prevent you from getting sick. This includes household members, intimate contacts, playmates, etc.

Avoid contact with oral secretions from someone sick with meningococcal infection. You should avoid:

  • Kissing a sick person.
  • Being in close contact of an infected person’s coughs.
  • Being in close proximity for an extended period of time.
  • Sharing items that touch the mouth:
    • Water bottles
    • Lip balm
    • Toothbrushes
    • Towels
    • Drinking glasses and eating utensils
    • Cosmetics
    • Smoking materials (vape pens, cigarettes, etc)
    • Food or drink from a common source like a punch bowl

Meningococcal Vaccines

The United States uses two different types of meningococcal vaccines to help protect against specific serotypes (groupings) of meningococcal disease.

  • Conjugate vaccines protect against meningococcal serotypes A, B, W, and Y.
  • Recombinant vaccines protect against meningococcal serotype B.

These vaccines protect against many, but not all types of meningococcal bacteria.

When do people get meningococcal vaccines?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends meningococcal vaccination for all preteens and teens. Other children and adults should get these vaccines in certain situations.

  • All 11- to 12-year-olds should get a MenACWY vaccine, with a booster dose at 16 years old.
  • Teens, preferably 16 to 18 years old, may get a MenB vaccine.

Certain children between 2 months and 10 years old should get MenACWY vaccine if they are at higher risk.

Certain preteens and teens should get MenB vaccine if they are at higher risk.

Adults should get MenACWY and/or MenB vaccine if they are at higher risk for meningococcal disease.

Those at higher risk should talk to their doctor or health care provider for more details about if and when they can get vaccinated.

What are the side effects of meningococcal vaccination?

The most common side effects of MenACWY vaccines include:

  • Redness or soreness where the vaccine was given.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Headache.
  • Tiredness.

The most common side effects of MenB vaccines include:

  • Redness, soreness, or swelling where the vaccine was given.
  • Tiredness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Nausea or diarrhea.

Why are meningococcal vaccines important?

Meningococcal disease is very serious and can be deadly in a matter of hours. Additionally, the disease can be difficult to diagnose because it shares symptoms with other illnesses. 10 to 15% of people will die from meningitis even when treated with antibiotics. Those that survive may have long term disabilities. The side effects of vaccination are minor compared to the seriousness of meningococcal disease.

Rates of all types of meningococcal disease have decreased in the United States thanks to the use of vaccination. However, the United States still experiences meningococcal outbreaks.

Vaccine Information Statement and Resources

The Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) is given to people at the time of vaccination. It explains the benefits and risks of the specific vaccination.

  • Read the current MenACWY VIS from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Read the current MenB VIS from the CDC.

Additional resources for the public:

Additional resources for health care providers: