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Meningococcal Disease

About Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, but serious disease that can lead to death within 24 hours and for survivors can result in life-altering, significant long-term disabilities. 1,2,3,4

Meningococcal disease can progress rapidly, and early symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other more common infections, such as the flu. 5 This disease can lead to meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) and serious blood infections. 6,7

There are five common groups of bacteria that cause invasive meningococcal disease – A, B, C, W and Y. 8 While meningococcal disease can occur at any age, its incidence is highest in infants, adolescents and young adults. 9,10

Vaccines are one of the more effective tools to help prevent illness, disability and deaths, including meningococcal disease. Pfizer continues to work on ways to help protect adolescents and young adults against this uncommon, but potentially devastating disease.

On this page, you’ll find information on the condition, its diagnosis and treatment, our pipeline, as well as useful Pfizer resources.

Disease Education Information

What is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, but serious disease that can lead to death within 24 hours and for survivors can result in life-altering, significant long-term disabilities. 1,2,3,4 Meningococcal disease can progress rapidly, and early symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other more common infections, such as the flu.5 This disease can lead to meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) and serious blood infections. 6,7

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.8 There are five common groups of bacteria that cause invasive meningococcal disease – A, B, C, W and Y. 8,10

Who Gets Meningococcal Disease and How?

The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease can be spread from person to person through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions, which can occur through kissing or coughing, but the bacteria are not spread by casual contact. 5,7,10

While meningococcal disease can occur at any age, its incidence is highest in infants, adolescents and young adults.9 Adolescents and young adults are the primary carriers of meningococcal bacteria, meaning that they may harbor the pathogen in the back of the throat, even if it does not cause them to get sick. 5,10,

What Are the Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease can progress rapidly, and early symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other more common infections – with flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea and vomiting.5 Later symptoms may include drowsiness, difficulty breathing, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, rash, confusion, or delirium and may lead to death within 24 hours. 4

How is Meningococcal Disease Diagnosed?

Early diagnosis is very important. Samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid are collected and sent to a laboratory for testing if a patient is suspected of having meningococcal disease.

Can Meningococcal Disease Be Treated?

Despite the availability of antibiotic treatment, between 10% and 15% of patients with meningococcal disease die, and those who survive are afflicted with long-term disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss or limb amputations.

The best prevention against meningococcal disease is to make sure adolescents and young adults are up to date with their recommended vaccines. There are different vaccines available to help protect against the five common groups of meningococcal disease: a vaccine that helps protect against groups A, C, W and Y, and a different vaccine that helps protect against group B.


1Borg J, Christie D, Coen PG, Pooy R, Viner RM. Outcomes of Meningococcal disease in adolescence: prospective, matched-cohort study. Pediatrics. 2009;123:e502-e509.

2Sabatini C, Bosis S, Semino M, Senatore L, Principi N, Esposito S. Clinical presentation of meningococcal disease in childhood. J Prev Med Hyg. 2012;53:116-119.

3Brigham KS, Sandora TJ. Neisseria meningitidis: epidemiology, treatment and prevention in adolescents. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2009;21:437-443.

4Thompson MJ, Ninis N, Perera R, et al. Clinical recognition of meningococcal disease in children and adolescents. Lancet. 2006;367(9508):397-403.

5Meningococcal vaccines for preteens, teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/meningococcal/. Updated April 18, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016.

6Meningococcal meningitis: signs and symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/symptoms.html. Updated July 8, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016.

7Meningococcal disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html. Updated October 20, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016.

8Pinto VB, Burden R, Wagner A, Moran EE, Lee C. The Development of an Experimental Multiple Serogroups Vaccine for Neisseria meningitidis. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(11):1-10.

9Cohn A, MacNeil JR, Harrison LH, et al. Changes in Neisseria meningitidis disease epidemiology in the United States, 1998-2007: implications for prevention of meningococcal disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50:184-191.

10Epidemiology and prevention of vaccine-preventable diseases: meningitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/mening.html. Updated July 24, 2015. Accessed November 22, 2016.

11Bruce MG, Rosenstein NE, Capparella JM, et al. Risk factors for meningococcal disease in college students. JAMA. 2001;286(6):688-693.

12Meningococcal disease: diagnosis & treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/diagnosis-treatment.html. Updated June 11, 2015. Accessed November 22, 2016.

13Meningococcal disease: technical & clinical information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clinical Information. http://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/clinical-info.html. Updated June 14, 2015. Accessed November 22, 2016.