What it is: Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness caused by the meningococcus bacterium. It is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children two to 18 years old in the U.S. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease can result in brain/nervous system damage, loss of limbs or death.

How it spreads: Discharges from the nose and mouth carry the infectious disease from person to person. Remaining in prolonged close contact with others infected with meningococcal can lead to infection. Immediate medical attention is necessary, as the disease progresses quickly.

What it causes: Symptoms depend on the site of infection and are typically tied to the inflammation of the meninges. Meningococcal shows the following symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting/nausea
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Rash
  • Light sensitivity
  • Anxiety, paranoia or other mental disturbances

What to do: If infected, antibiotics like penicillin G or ceftriaxone can be used as treatment. However, roughly 10 percent of infected people die despite treatment, and many others are affected for life. Vaccination in children serves as effective protection against infection.

There are two types of vaccines here in the U.S.  Both vaccines prevent against four types of meningococcal disease, including two of the three types most common in the country and a type that causes epidemics in Africa.  Both vaccines work well and protect about 90% of people who get them.

A dose of meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) is recommended for children and adolescents 11-12 years of age with a booster dose given at age 16-18. Starting in 2016, for the 2016-2017 school year, a meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) will be required for entry into 7th grade as well as 1-2 doses for 12th graders.   Meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for other people at risk for meningococcal disease:

  • College freshmen living in dormitories
  • College students living in on-campus housing must disclose their hepatitis B vaccination and meningococcal vaccination status.  Use this form.
  • Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
  • U.S. military recruits
  • Anyone traveling to or living in a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as Africa
  • Anyone with a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed
  • Anyone with a terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder)
  • People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak