Despite the success of vaccines to prevent meningococcal disease, about 800–1,200 cases are reported each year in the United States. Previously healthy children can quickly become seriously ill and die from meningococcal disease.
Please click on the FAQs below to learn about meningococcal disease and how vaccination can help protect children.
Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious bacterial illness that can cause meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). The disease is most common in infants less than one year of age, people 16–21 years, and adults aged ≥65 years.
Meningococcal disease spreads by direct person-to-person contact. This can happen through contact with infected mucus or saliva droplets. About 10% of adolescents and adults are “carriers.” This means they carry meningococcal bacteria in their throat and nose and can spread it to others without getting sick themselves.
Meningococcal meningitis usually starts with a sudden fever, headache, and stiff neck. Other signs and symptoms may include nausea (uneasy feeling in the stomach) or vomiting (throwing up). A person with meningitis may complain that it hurts their eyes to look at light (photophobia) or seem confused (altered mental status).
Newborns and infants who are sick with meningitis are unable to tell parents how they feel. Parents should look for signs and symptoms that may include fever, high pitched screaming, arching of the back, less active than usual, or vomiting and feeding poorly. In young children, doctors may test the child’s reflexes because overactive or underactive reflexes may also be a sign of meningitis.
Yes. Even when treated with antibiotics, 9%-12% of people who get meningococcal disease die, sometimes just hours after the disease made them feel sick. Permanent disabilities can include hearing loss and brain damage, or loss of a limb.
Children with certain medical conditions, such as lack of a spleen, have an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease. College freshmen living in dorms and military recruits living in barracks are also at increased risk.
Vaccination can help protect your child from most types of meningococcal disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a first vaccine at age 11 or 12 and a second dose at age 16. Vaccination as early as 2 months of age is recommended for certain “at risk” children. These children include those with an immune condition called “complement component deficiency” and those who do not have a spleen or a normal functioning spleen.
Please check with your child’s healthcare provider to make sure your child is up-to-date on recommended meningococcal disease vaccines.