Meningococcal Disease Fact Sheet
Last Reviewed: February 2016
What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. It can lead to serious blood infections. When the linings of the brain and spinal cord become inflamed, it is called meningitis. The disease strikes quickly and can have serious complications including death.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease. Some people are at higher risk. This disease occurs more often in people who are:
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms appear suddenly, usually 3 to 4 days after a person is infected. It can take up to 10 days to develop symptoms. Symptoms may include:
How is meningococcal disease spread?
It spreads from person-to-person by coughing or coming into close or lengthy contact with someone who is sick or who carries the bacteria. Contact includes kissing, sharing drinks, or living together. Up to one in 10 people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat without getting sick.
Is there treatment?
Early diagnosis of meningococcal disease is very important.If it is caught early, meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics. But, sometimes the infection has caused too much damage for antibiotics to prevent death or serious long-term problems. Most people need to be cared for in a hospital due to serious, life-threatening infections.
What are the complications?
Ten to 15 percent of those who get meningococcal disease die. Among survivors, as many as one in five will have permanent disabilities. Complications include:
What should I do if I or someone I love is exposed?
If you are in close contact with a person with meningococcal disease, talk with your health care provider about the risk to you and your family. They can prescribe an antibiotic to prevent the disease.
What is the best way to prevent meningococcal disease?
The single best way to prevent this disease is to be vaccinated. Vaccines are available for people 6 weeks of age and older.
Various vaccines offer protection against the five major strains of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease:
Others who should receive the vaccine include:
Please speak with your health care provider if you may be at increased risk.
What are the meningococcal vaccine requirements for school attendance?
As of September 1, 2016, children entering grades 7 and 12 must be immunized against meningococcal disease strains A, C, W and Y according to the recommendations listed above.
Is there an increased risk for meningococcal disease if I travel?