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Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease (a type of bacterial meningitis) is a severe bacterial infection of the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease is spread through droplets made when an infectious person coughs, speaks, or sneezes, and through saliva when individuals kiss or share food, beverages, or eating utensils. Meningococcal disease occurs worldwide, but significant seasonal outbreaks occur annually in the "meningitis belt" of sub-Saharan Africa, stretching from the Gambia to Eritrea.

Outbreaks typically occur during the winter and early spring, and are most commonly reported in developing countries or crowded conditions, such as; mass gatherings, prisons, refugee caps, or college dormitories.

Most meningococcal infections are mild. However, infections can lead to serious medical complications. Children under the age of two years, adults older than 65 years, and individuals with a weakened immune system are at the greatest risk of complications.

Signs and Symptoms

  • The most common symptoms of meningococcal infection are sudden onset of stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches, and vomiting. Such symptoms typically occur two to 10 days after exposure.
  • An individual who suspects he or she has meningococcal meningitis should contact a healthcare provider immediately, as prompt treatment with antibiotics is necessary.


  • Avoid close human contact in crowded areas.
  • Use frequent handwashing with soap and water.
  • Consider immunization against the disease.


Immunization is recommended for children younger than five years, adults aged 65 or older, and anyone with chronic disease. In many countries, it has become part of the routine schedule of immunizations. Check with your medical provider before traveling or moving to high-risk areas to confirm your immunization status.


Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics. It is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Updated Sept. 12, 2016

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