Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness that can become very serious, very quickly. It often strikes without warning – even in healthy people. The two most severe and common forms of meningococcal disease are meningitis and septicemia. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord and can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and even death. Septicemia is a bloodstream infection, which can lead to loss of an arm or leg and even death.

Even if they get treatment, about 1 in 10 people with meningococcal disease will die from it. Of those who survive, about 1 to 2 will have permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations.

The bacteria that cause this infection can spread when people have close or lengthy contact with someone’s saliva, like through kissing or coughing, especially if they are living in the same place. Children under 1 year old, teens and young adults are at increased risk for meningococcal disease.

There are five major serogroups of meningococcal disease: A, C, W, Y and B. One-third of meningococcal disease cases in the U.S. are serogroup B. Serogroup B meningococcal disease is the most common cause of disease in adolescents and young adults, and has caused several outbreaks on college campuses.

Learn more about meningococcal disease and outbreaks.


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 one or two 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

The symptoms of meningococcal disease are the same for all of the serogroups.


There are now two types of vaccines available to help protect against meningococcal disease –meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) and serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (MenB).

The CDC recommends that all adolescents receive two doses of the MenACWY vaccine, which protects against meningococcus types (serogroups) A, C, Y and W. The first dose should be given between 11 and 12 years old, with a booster dose given at 16 years old.

The MenB vaccine, which protects against meningococcus type (serogroup) B is recommended for people 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections including:

  • People at risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak
  • Anyone whose spleen is damaged or has been removed
  • Anyone with a rare immune system condition called “persistent complement component deficiency
  • Anyone taking a drug called eculizumab (also called Soliris)
  • Microbiologists who routinely work with N. meningitidis isolates

Serogroup B vaccine may also be given to anyone 16-23 years old to provide short-term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease. (The preferred age for MenB vaccination is 16–18 years.)

Check the recommended immunization schedule for adolescents (7-18 y.o.) to make sure your children are up-to-date on their vaccines. In addition, talk to your children’s healthcare provider to find out if the MenB vaccine is right for them.