Don’t dismiss the threat of meningococcal disease

Once meningitis strikes, it may be too late

Meningococcal disease shouldn’t be dismissed just because it’s uncommon.1 After all, once symptoms appear, the disease can progress quickly. And if that happens, it may be too late to stop its potentially devastating consequences.1

Time After Onset of Symptoms2,*


0-8 Hours:

Headache, sore throat/coryza, thirst, general aches, and fever


9-12 Hours:

Decreased appetite, nausea/vomiting, leg pain, and irritability


13-20 Hours:

Rash, drowsiness, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, neck stiffness, cold hands and feet, photophobia, and abnormal skin color


21-24 Hours:

Confusion/delirium, unconsciousness, seizure,† and death




Hypothetical case in an individual 15-16 years old.


*Hours expressed as medians.

Seizure was noted at a median of 26 hours.


Data were obtained from parents of test subjects via questionnaire (n=313) or interview with a study investigator (n=135). Parents were asked at what time of day their child’s symptoms began, as well as the time of appearance of predefined clinical features. Additional data were obtained from medical records for the course of illness before admission to the hospital in 448 children (≤16 years of age) with meningococcal disease (345 nonfatal cases; 103 fatal). Diagnosis was confirmed with microbiologic techniques in 83% of cases (n=373). The remainder of the children (n=75) were probable cases.2

Of those who contract meningococcal disease, approximately 10% to 15% die from complications related to the disease3-5

The symptoms of meningococcal disease progress rapidly, and can potentially lead to death, sometimes in as few as 24 hours, despite appropriate treatment1,2


Among survivors of meningococcal disease, up to 20% experience permanent consequences, including seizures and other cognitive deficits, loss of limbs, kidney damage, hearing loss, and skin scarring1,3,4,6,7



Most people who contract meningococcal disease are healthy, with zero identified risk factors1 



A small proportion of the population are asymptomatic carriers of Neisseria meningitidis, the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease4, 8 

Did you know outbreaks can happen on college campuses?


Vaccination may not protect all recipients.


References: 1. Pelton SI. Meningococcal disease awareness: clinical and epidemiological factors affecting prevention and management in adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2010;46:S9-S15. 2. Thompson MJ, Ninis N, Perera R, et al. Clinical recognition of meningococcal disease in children and adolescents. Lancet. 2006;367(9508):397-403. 3. Meningococcal disease. In: Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe S, eds. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation; 2015;231-245. Reviewed April 15, 2019. Accessed January 16, 2020. 4.  McNamara LA, Blain A. Meningococcal Disease. In: Roush SW, Baldy LM, Hall MAK, eds. Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Updated December 27, 2019. Accessed March 12, 2020. 5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal disease: Technical and clinical information. Updated May 31, 2019. Accessed January 16, 2020. 6. Slack R, Hawkins KC, Gilhooley L, Addison GM, Lewis MA, Webb NJ. Long-term outcome of meningococcal sepsis-associated acute renal failure. Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2005;6(4):477-479. 7. Vyse A, Anonychuk A, Jäkel A, et al. The burden and impact of severe and long-term sequelae of meningococcal disease. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2013;11(6):597-604. 8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal disease: Causes and transmission. Updated May 31, 2019. Accessed January 16, 2020. 


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