What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal (muh-nin-jo-kok-ul) disease is a very serious bacterial infection that most often causes severe swelling of the protective lining around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the bloodstream (meningococcal sepsis). The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are spread by close, direct contact with people who carry the bacteria in their nose or throat. Even with appropriate treatment, one in 10 people who get meningococcal disease will die and up to two in 10 more will have serious permanent disabilities including brain damage, hearing loss, and limb amputations.
In its early stages, meningococcal disease symptoms can include fever, headache, body aches, and a stiff neck. These symptoms may be mild and easily mistaken for less severe illnesses, like a bad cold. But symptoms can progress quickly, killing an otherwise healthy young person in less than 48 hours. Other symptoms that may occur are nausea, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness, sensitivity to light, and a rash (usually dark purple spots on the arms, legs, or torso).
Vaccines to prevent meningococcal disease
There are two types of meningococcal vaccines currently available in the US. One type protects against four meningococcal serogroups (A, C, W, and Y) while the other type protects against one serogroup (B). The vaccines that protect against the four serogroups (quadrivalent) have been available since 2005 and are recommended for routine use in adolescents and young adults through age 18 years. Serogroup B vaccines have been available in the US since late 2014 and are recommended permissively for adolescents and young adults age 16-23 years. Individuals in this age group are encouraged to talk with their healthcare professional about serogroup B vaccination. Serogroup B vaccination is also recommended for individuals with certain rare immune disorders or spleen problems, or those living where there is an active outbreak, for example on a college campus. Read more about serogroup B outbreaks on college campuses.
Meningococcal vaccines are safe. Vaccine reactions are usually mild. The most common reactions are pain and redness at the injection site. You cannot get meningococcal disease from the vaccines. The potential risks associated with meningococcal disease are much greater than the potential risks associated with the vaccines.
Disease and vaccine facts
- FACT: Quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine (A, C, W, and Y) is a safe and effective vaccine licensed to prevent meningococcal disease in individuals age 2 to 55 years.
- FACT: Serogroup B vaccines are safe and effective vaccines licensed to prevent meningococcal disease in individuals age 10 to 25 years.
- FACT: Quadrivalent vaccine is recommended for routine immunization of adolescents at age 11-12 years, with a booster at age 16 years, and for adults with certain risk factors.
- FACT: Serogroup B vaccines are recommended for adolescents and young adults with certain rare immune disorders, problems with their spleen, or those are living where there is an outbreak, including college campuses.
- FACT: You cannot get meningococcal disease from vaccines.
- FACT: All meningococcal vaccines are safe and side effects after vaccination are usually minor and can include pain and redness at the injection site.
- FACT: About one in 10 people who get meningococcal disease will die from it and two in 10 survivors will have serious permanent disabilities like brain damage, hearing loss, and limb amputations.
- FACT: While some adults are at increased risk and need vaccination, adolescents and young adults generally have a higher risk of getting meningococcal disease.
- FACT: Meningococcal bacteria are spread through close, direct contact with a person carrying the bacteria and not through casual contact such as breathing air where an infected person has been.
- FACT: Early symptoms of meningococcal disease (fever, headache, body aches, and stiff neck) may be mistaken for other less serious illnesses like the common cold, but meningococcal disease symptoms can progress quickly killing an otherwise healthy young person in two days or less.