What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by bacteria. It is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2-18 years of age. Meningitis is an infection of the brain and spinal cord coverings. Meningococcal bacteria can also cause infection in the blood. Apart from epidemics, at least 1.2 million cases of bacterial meningitis are estimated to occur every year; 135,000 of them are fatal. Approximately 500,000 of these cases and 50,000 of the deaths are due to meningococci. In developing countries, the mortality rate from bacterial meningitis is often higher (20-40%) than in developed countries. Of those who live, another 10 percent lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become mentally retarded, or suffer seizures or strokes.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants less than one year of age, and in people with certain medical conditions.
People living in crowded locations are at a higher risk. This includes slum dwellers, college students living in dormitories, military personnel living in barracks, religious gatherings etc.
How is meningococcal disease spread?
Meningococcal disease is spread by intimate or direct exposure to someone who has the disease. Intimate or direct exposure includes being touched or kissed, sharing eating utensils, or contact with any fluids from the body of the person who has the disease.
What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?
Symptoms are usually sudden and begin like the flu: fever, feeling generally unwell, headache, vomiting, and in some cases a stiff neck.
People with this disease are visibly sick and may be confused, excited, or drowsy. Sometimes a reddish-purple rash that may look like bruises appears. The rash is flat and smooth, does not itch, and may spread quickly once it starts.
Because the disease spreads quickly in the body, it is important to go to a doctor or an emergency room immediately if you have a fever greater than 101 degrees and a severe sudden headache along with any of these symptoms:
• neck or back stiffness,
• mental changes (feeling edgy or confused),
Who should get meningococcal vaccine?
Meningococcal vaccine is not routinely recommended for most people.
People who should get the vaccine include:
• Military recruits
• Anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where
meningococcal disease is common, such as
• Anyone who has a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been
removed, and certain immunological diseases
• Lab workers who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
According to the latest
Meningococcal vaccine is usually not recommended for children under two years of age. But under special circumstances it may be given to infants as young as three months of age (the vaccine does not work as well in very young children). Ask your health care provider for details.
Should my children receive meningococcal vaccine?
Meningococcal vaccine is only indicated for close contacts of patients with the disease; also it may be given in epidemic situations in a well defined community.
On the basis if this it is premature to consider meningococcal vaccine to children other than those at high risk (as mentioned above).
How many doses are given?
• For people two years of age and over: one dose
(Sometimes an additional dose is recommended for people who
continue to be at high risk. Ask your doctor or nurse.)
• For children three months to two years of age who need the
vaccine: Two doses, three months apart.
Who should not get the vaccine?
• People who have ever had a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine.
• People with moderate or severe illnesses should usually wait until they recover.
What are the possible side effects from meningococcal vaccine?
• redness or pain where the shot was given
• fever in a small percentage of people
Where can I get this vaccine?
Call your doctor,
For more information:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Meningitis Foundation of
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices:
Medline Plus Health Information:
Michigan Government website
Information collected, edited and reviewed by Dr. Gaurav Gupta, Pediatrician, Charak Child Care, Mohali.