Meningococcal (muh-nin-jo-cok-ul) disease is a serious bacterial illness that can lead to severe swelling of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the bloodstream (meningococcal septicemia or meningococcemia). Even with treatment, approximately one out of every 10 people who get meningococcal disease will die, and of those who survive, up to 20 percent will suffer serious and permanent complications including brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and amputation of arms, legs, fingers, or toes.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease but certain people are at increased risk, including:
- Infants younger than one year old
- Adolescents and young adults age 16 through 23 years old
- People with certain medical conditions that affect the immune system
- Microbiologists who routinely work with isolates of N. meningitidis, the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease
- People at risk because of an outbreak in their community
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meningococcal bacteria spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like saliva or spit (e.g., by coughing, living in close quarters, kissing). Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics, but quick medical attention is extremely important.
Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best way to protect against meningococcal disease. Two meningococcal vaccines (MenACWY and MenB) provide protection against the five serogroups that cause most meningococcal disease in the US (serogroups A, B, C, W, and Y). CDC recommends meningococcal vaccines for preteens, teens, and people with certain medical conditions, travel plans, or jobs. The recommendations for the use of these vaccines differ:
- Meningococcal ACWY vaccine is recommended for all adolescents at age 11-12 years with a booster dose at age 16 years.
- Meningococcal ACWY vaccine is recommended for children age 2 months through 10 years who have an increased risk of infection due to certain medical conditions, travel, or an outbreak.
- Teens and young adults (16 through 23 year olds) may also get a MenB vaccine, preferably at 16 through 18 years old. CDC does not routinely recommend this vaccine and asks that parents and healthcare professionals discuss the risk of disease and weigh the risks and benefits of vaccination before deciding. People need multiple doses of a MenB vaccine for best protection and must get the same brand for all doses.
- Meningococcal B vaccines are recommended for people age 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal disease, including people at risk because of an outbreak.
Talk to your healthcare professional to make sure that your family is protected against this deadly disease.
Learn more about serogroup B disease and recent outbreaks on US college campuses. View the Meningococcal Disease College Toolkit for resources to help increase awareness among the college community about the importance of meningococcal disease prevention. Read NFID’s report on Addressing the Challenges of Serogroup B Meningococcal Disease Outbreaks on Campuses (May 2014).
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
Many adults need to be vaccinated if they are at increased risk of meningococcal disease, including college students, military personnel, and some international travelers
Definitions of medical terms about meningococcal disease
Serogroup B is the most common cause of meningococcal disease in US adolescents and young adults
What you should know about meningococcal disease
Most meningococcal cases in the US are not linked to outbreaks, but when outbreaks do occur, they are usually in dense populations such as college campuses