Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness and the leading cause of meningitis in children ages 2 through 18. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease can also cause bloodstream infections (septicemia).

About 500 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. and 1 out of 10 of these people die. Of those who survive, about 1 to 2 patients will have permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations.

Children younger than 1 year old, teens and young adults are at the greatest risk for meningococcal disease.


It’s easy to mistake the early signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease for the flu. Signs and symptoms may develop over several hours or over 1 to 2 days and may include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting or nausea with headache
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • Skin rash


Two types of meningococcal vaccine are available. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) has been available for several years and protects against 4 of the 5 types of meningococcus (A, C, Y, and W-135). It is routinely recommended for all children 11-12 years of age, with a booster dose at age 16.

The other type of meningococcal vaccine (MenB) is newer and protects against the 5th type of meningococcus - type (serogroup) B. MenB vaccine is routinely recommended for people 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections; and may also be given to anyone 16 - 23 years old to provide short-term protection. Learn more about MenB from the National Meningitis Association.

Meningococcal vaccination is not recommended for children under 11 years of age, unless they are considered to be at increased risk for meningococcal disease.

To see if your children are up-to date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.

Have questions about meningococcal disease? Talk to your healthcare provider about your family’s risk and visit our Shot Of Prevention Blog to join the conversation about protecting your family from meningitis.