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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Meningococcal (muh-nin-jeh-KOK-el) disease used to cause thousands of serious infections every year. Thanks to vaccines, there are fewer cases of meningococcal disease in the United States than ever before.
There are 2 types of meningococcal vaccines:
- The MenACWY vaccine for preteens, teens, and children and adults with certain health conditions
- The MenB vaccine for people age 10 years and older who have certain health conditions — or are in an area with an outbreak of serogroup B meningococcal disease
Meningococcal disease is rare, but people do get it — and teens, young adults, and people with certain health conditions are at increased risk. Meningococcal disease can cause serious infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord or the blood.
Protection from these infections is especially important because they can quickly become very dangerous — in fact, they can be deadly in just a few hours.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria. Some people get the germs that cause meningococcal disease, but don’t get sick — these people are called “carriers.” But others get meningococcal disease, which can cause serious infections. The most common are meningitis and septicemia.
Meningococcal meningitis is inflammation of the thin lining that covers the brain and spinal cord. Some common symptoms include:
- Stiff neck
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Feeling confused
- Upset stomach and throwing up
- Being less active than usual, fussing, throwing up, and not wanting to eat (in babies)
Meningococcal septicemia is an infection of the bloodstream that causes bleeding into the skin and organs. Some common symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Feeling tired
- Throwing up and diarrhea (watery poop)
- Cold hands and feet
- Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest, or stomach
As many as 1 in 5 people who survive meningococcal disease will have long-term disabilities — like hearing loss or brain damage.
Meningococcal bacteria spread through saliva or spit, usually through:
- Direct contact, like when a person who has the bacteria in their nose or throat coughs on or kisses someone
- Ongoing contact, like living with a person who has the disease
All preteens and teens need to get the meningococcal vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule.
Meningococcal vaccines are also recommended for people at increased risk for meningococcal disease. This may include people who:
- Live in places where people are in close contact with each other (like college dorms)
- Have certain medical conditions, like HIV
- Are traveling to a certain part of sub-Saharan Africa known as the “meningitis belt”
The MenACWY vaccine is recommended for:
- Preteens and teens ages 11 through 18 (2 doses)
- Children and adults age 2 months and older and adults who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease (doses may vary)
The MenB vaccine is recommended for children and adults age 10 years and older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal disease (doses may vary). In addition, all teens may be vaccinated with a MenB vaccine, preferably at age 16 through 18. Multiple doses are required and the same brand must be used for all doses.
Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from meningococcal disease.
You should not get a meningococcal vaccine if you have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the meningococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine.
Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:
- Have serious allergies of any kind
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
If you’re sick, you may need to wait until you’re feeling better to get the meningococcal vaccine.
Side effects from the meningococcal vaccines are usually mild and go away in a few days.
Side effects of the MenACWY vaccine may include:
- Pain or redness where the shot was given
- Low fever
Side effects of the MenB vaccine may include:
- Pain, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- Feeling tired
- Muscle or joint pain
- Fever or chills
- Upset stomach and diarrhea (watery poop)
Like any medicine, there’s a very small chance that meningococcal vaccines could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting a meningococcal vaccine is much safer than getting meningococcal disease. Learn more about vaccine side effects.
Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against meningococcal disease:
Last reviewed: January 2018