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Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. It can cause bloodstream infections or meningitis—an inflammation in the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord. It can strike otherwise healthy individuals and cause devastating illness—even death. 


Meningococcal disease is spread from person to person by exchanging saliva with someone who has the meningococcal disease or who is a carrier. It is possible to get it by kissing, sharing drinking glasses or toothbrushes, or being in close contact while coughing. It is not spread by casual contact or simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been. 

All children should receive the meningococcal vaccine at age 11-12 years, with a booster dose at age 16-18 years. The vaccine is also strongly recommended for:


  • First-year College students living in dormitories who have not been vaccinated.

  • Travelers to areas of the world with high rates of meningococcal disease, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Microbiologists routinely exposed to isolates of Neisseria meningitides.

  • Military recruits.

  • People with certain medical conditions like a damaged or missing spleen or terminal complement deficiency.

  • HIV-positive people ages two months and older.

Early meningococcal disease symptoms are often similar to influenza (flu), which can cause a delay in diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms usually progress very quickly and may include a combination of the following:


  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Stiff neck

  • Confusion

  • Nausea, vomiting

  • Exhaustion

  • Purplish rash


Death can happen in as little as 24-48 hours. People who experience these symptoms, especially if they are unusually sudden, progressive, or severe, should be examined as soon as possible by a healthcare professional.

The Quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine was added to the recommended immunization schedule in 2005. One dose of the Quadrivalent vaccine is recommended for children and adolescents around age 11 or 12. A booster dose is recommended about five years after the first dose, around age 16. A two-dose primary series is also recommended for children and adults at high risk of meningococcal disease.


In October 2015, the CDC adopted the position of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that group B meningococcal vaccine is recommended to individuals ages 16-23 who are at risk of disease during outbreaks. The ACIP, however, did not recommend that this vaccine join the Quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine as recommended universally for all adolescents. 


Your primary healthcare provider can give more information about group B meningococcal disease and the vaccine.

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