Meningococcal disease is a rare, but dangerous bacterial infection that most often causes meningitis and blood poisoning (sepsis). Even though it is rare, meningococcal disease is of great concern due to its severity. While anyone can get meningococcal disease, adolescents and young adults are at increased risk.
Meningococcal infection can spread quickly, killing an otherwise healthy young person within 24-48 hours. Even with rapid treatment, approximately one out of every 10 people who get meningococcal disease will die and up to 20 percent of those who survive will suffer serious and permanent complications including brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and amputations.
Meningitis is the most common manifestation of the disease. Meningitis causes high fever, headache, and stiff neck. Additional symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, severe muscle aches, and mental status changes. Because the early symptoms of meningitis may be similar to symptoms of less severe illnesses, it is often misdiagnosed.
Blood infection, also called sepsis, is less common but more deadly. It may begin with sudden onset of fever, accompanied by fatigue, muscle aches, and headache, and about half of patients develop a prominent purplish rash, usually on the arms and legs.
Preventing Meningococcal Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors recommend two doses of the ACWY meningococcal vaccine as the best way to protect adolescents against meningococcal disease.
One dose is recommended at each of the following ages:
- 11-12 years
- 16 years
Teens may also get a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, preferably at ages 16-18 years. Multiple doses are needed for best protection. Talk to a healthcare professional about how to protect your family.
Updated: December 2019
Sample social media posts focused on meningococcal disease prevention
30-second public service video on the two types of meningococcal vaccines to help protect adolescents and young adults
What you should know about meningococcal disease