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Help Protect Your Preteen and Teen Against Meningococcal Disease

Photo: Group of teenagersMake sure your preteen and teen get the meningococcal conjugate vaccine for protection against meningococcal disease, a very serious illness where death can occur in as little as a few hours. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended at 11–12 years of age and a booster dose at age 16.

Did you know that there are approximately 600–1,000 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States each year? Meningococcal disease can be very serious—even life-threatening in 48 hours or less. The good news is that there’s a vaccine to help prevent two of the three most common causes of meningococcal disease in the United States.

Vaccine Recommended for All Preteens and Teens

Teenage girl getting vaccination shot

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended at 11–12 years of age. A booster dose is needed at age 16.

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended for all 11 through 18 year olds. Preteens should get the first dose of this vaccine at their 11–12 year old check-up. Teenagers are also recommended to get a booster dose at age 16. If your teenager missed getting a dose, ask the doctor about getting it now—especially if your child is heading off to college as a freshman living in a residence hall.

Vaccine Side Effects and Risks

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is safe, but side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild or moderate, meaning they do not affect daily activities. The most common side effects in preteens and teens take place where the shot was given (in the arm), which can include pain and tenderness, swelling, and hardness of the skin. Other common side effects include nausea, feeling a little run down, and having a headache. These reactions usually last a short amount of time and get better on their own within a few days. Among preteens and teens there is also a risk of fainting after getting this or any shot.

What Is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease refers to any illness that is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus bacteria. The two most severe and common illnesses caused by meningococcus bacteria include meningitis (an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord) and septicemia (a bloodstream infection).

Man with prospecthic arm

About 11 to 19 out of every 100 meningococcal disease survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limb(s), deafness, nervous system problems, or brain damage.

Even with antibiotic treatment, 10 to 15 out of 100 people infected with meningococcal disease will die. About 11 to 19 out of every 100 survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limb(s), deafness, nervous system problems, or brain damage.

How Is Meningococcal Disease Spread?

The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are spread from person to person by sharing respiratory secretions (such as saliva, by kissing or coughing) during close or lengthy contact, especially among people who share a room or live in the same household. Although anyone can get meningococcal disease, teens and college freshmen who live in residence halls are at increased risk.

People can “carry” meningococcus bacteria without getting meningococcal disease. Being a carrier means that the bacteria live in the nose and throat, but do not invade the body and make someone sick. Carriers do not have any symptoms of meningococcal disease. Since meningococcus bacteria are most often spread by people who carry the bacteria, most cases of meningococcal disease appear to be random and aren't linked to other cases. Almost all (98 out of 100) cases of meningococcal disease are sporadic. However, anyone who is a close contact of a person who has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease is at highest risk for getting the infection.

Meningococcal Disease Outbreaks in the News

Meningococcal Disease Outbreaks in the News

Two U.S. universities are experiencing unrelated outbreaks of serogroup B meningococcal disease. Learn more about each of these outbreaks:

Meningococcal outbreaks can occur in communities, schools, colleges, prisons, and other populations. Very few (2 out of 100) cases occur as part of an outbreak.

Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease

Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include sudden onset of a high fever, headache, or stiff neck. It can start with symptoms similar to influenza (flu), and will often also cause nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, rash, and confusion.

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