Meningococcal disease is caused by an infection that affects the meninges. The meninges is the protective membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. A bacterial infection of the meninges, called bacterial meningitis, can cause death within hours. This bacteria can also cause infections in the blood.

The disease is most common in:

  • Infants aged less than 1 year
  • People aged 16-21 years old
  • People with certain medical conditions
  • Community settings where large groups of people gather, such as college dorms or military bases

About 1,200 people in the US develop the disease each year. Approximately 10%-15% of these people die. Another 11%-19% lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have nervous system problems, or suffer seizures or strokes.

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Very stiff, sore neck
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Sleepiness
  • Mental confusion

Symptoms in newborn and infants can be hard to notice. These may include:

  • Inactivity
  • Unexplained high fever or low body temperature
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Feeding poorly or refusing to eat
  • Tautness or bulging of soft spots between skull bones
  • Difficulty waking

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Corticosteroids
  • Fluid replacement

There are 2 meningococcal vaccines available in the US:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4)—given as a shot into the muscle, preferred for people age 55 years or younger
  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4)—given as a shot under the skin, preferred for adults age 56 years or older

Both vaccines are made from parts of the meningococcal bacteria. They do not contain live bacteria.