Meningococcal Vaccine

Meningococcal [muh-ning-goh-KOK-ul] disease is a serious bacterial infection that often causes meningitis. Two doses of the vaccine are routinely recommended for teenagers and other people in high-risk groups.

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Table of Contents for Meningococcal Disease

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection with the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. It is more common in children, but even healthy adults can get severe illnesses.

Meningococcal disease is deadly in 10-15% of people, even with the best treatment. Around 10-20% of survivors suffer permanent disabilities like hearing loss, brain damage, kidney damage, amputations, nervous system problems, or scarring from skin grafts.

How do you get meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease spreads from person-to-person in nasal and throat secretions (coughing, kissing, sharing eating utensils, etc.). Around 5-25% of people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose and throat without feeling sick or showing any symptoms of illness.

Picture of bacteria that causes meningococcal disease
Neisseria meningitidis or meningococcus is a bacterium that can cause meningitis and other forms of meningococcal disease.

How many people get meningococcal disease every year?

Less than 700 cases of meningococcal disease and around 80 deaths have been reported every year in the United States since 2010.

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

Up to one in four people carry meningococcal bacteria without showing any symptoms. In most cases, symptoms do not appear until the bacteria spreads beyond the nose and throat and causes an infection in the bloodstream, brain, or another part of the body.

The symptoms of meningococcal disease and may include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Joint pain
  • Rash of red-purple spots or bruises
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Shock
  • Coma
  • Death

Children with meningococcal disease may have the following symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble walking
  • High-pitched crying
  • Refusing to eat

How soon do symptoms appear?

People with meningococcal disease get sick very quickly. The incubation period is 3-4 days, with a range of 2-10 days.

What are complications of meningococcal disease?

  • Meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)
  • Septicemia (blood poisoning)
  • Septic arthritis (joint infection)
  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Conjunctivitis (infection of the outer lining of the eye and eyelid)

Is meningococcal disease contagious?

Meningococcal disease is not very contagious, but it spreads from person-to-person through close contact (coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially people who live in the same household.

How is meningococcal disease treated?

Emergency treatment with antibiotics and hospitalization are usually necessary. Meningococcal disease progresses very quickly and it is critical to start treatment as soon as possible. Death can occur within hours in people with overwhelming infections, even with treatment.

What is the meningococcal vaccine?

Meningococcal disease is caused by several subtypes (A, B, C, W and Y) of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. There are three types of meningococcal vaccines approved in the United States:

  • MenACWY (Subtypes A, C, W, and Y)
  • MenB (Subtype B)
  • MPSV4 (Subtypes A, C, W, and Y) — Only for some people over 55

How effective is the meningococcal vaccine?

MenACWY and MPSV4 are 85-100% effective at preventing infections with the meningococcal bacteria subtypes in the vaccine. MenB is estimated to be 63-88% effective at preventing type B infections.

What is the immunization schedule for meningococcal disease?

Two doses of MenACWY are recommended for all teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 years old, with the 1st dose given at 11 or 12 years old, and a booster shot given at the age of 16 years old. Some teenagers may need additional booster shots if they have a high risk.

MenB vaccines are not routinely recommended for anyone, but the vaccine may be given to people 16-23 years old if they are at risk.

MPSV4 is recommended for adults over the age of 55 years old who anticipate requiring only a single dose, such as during a community outbreak or before traveling to places where the disease is common.

MenACWY or MPSV4 may also be recommended during outbreaks, for travelers to sub-Saharan Africa or Saudi Arabia, people with a damaged or missing spleen, immune system disorders, laboratory workers, and people under 22 who will be living in a college dormitory.

What are meningococcal vaccine names?

  • Menomune® Polysaccharide Vaccine (Serotypes A, C, W, and Y) – Ages 2 years and older
  • Menactra® Conjugate Vaccine (Serotypes A, C, W, and Y) – Ages 9 months to 55 years old
  • Menevo® Conjugate Vaccine (Serotypes A, C, W, and Y) – Ages 2 months to 55 years old
  • Trumenba® Protein Vaccine (Serotype B) – Ages 10 to 25 years old
  • Bexsero® Protein Vaccine (Serotype B) – Ages 10 to 25 years old

Is the meningococcal shot safe?

Yes. Meningococcal vaccines are much safer than the disease. The vaccine contains the sugar capsule or capsule protein of the bacteria. It is not capable of causing meningococcal disease.

What are the most common vaccine side effects?

Up to 50% of people who get meningococcal vaccines have mild side effects like pain or redness where the shot was injected. These symptoms usually last for 1-2 days and they are more common with MenACWY than after MPSV4. Some people also develop a fever.

Pain at the injection site was reported by 80% of people who received the MenB vaccine in clinical trials involving 60,000 patients.

Common side effects of meningococcal vaccines include:

  • Injection site reaction (pain, redness, swelling)
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise (generally feeling unwell)
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Rash

What are the most severe vaccine side effects?

Severe side effects like allergic reactions are very rare, estimated to occur in about 1 out of a million doses of the vaccine, but they can be deadly. These reactions are known as anaphylaxis or angioedema.

Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA) is a side effect when the vaccine needle punctures the bursa, ligaments, or tendons in the shoulder. It can cause chronic pain and weakness.

There have been reports of severe side effects like seizures, paresthesia, or Guillain-Barre Syndrome, but these side effects are so rare it is unknown if they were caused by the vaccine.

Where can I get more information?