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About Meningococcal Outbreaks

Almost all (98 out of 100) cases of meningococcal disease are sporadic. Very few (2 out of 100) cases occur as part of an outbreak. Outbreaks can occur in communities, schools, colleges, prisons and other populations.

An outbreak occurs when there are multiple cases in a community or institution over a short period of time. Specifically, an outbreak is defined as three or more cases of the same serogroup ("strain") occurring within three months. Sometimes having just two cases in a school or college can meet the outbreak definition.

State and local health departments take the lead in investigating outbreaks and implementing control measures to reduce spread of the disease. They often work closely with CDC who has published guidelines to assist with this. In the setting of an outbreak, such recommendations often include:

  • Vaccinating people identified as being at high risk (if the strain is one that can be prevented by meningococcal vaccines)
  • Making sure all close contacts of a patient receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease; this is known as prophylaxis

Close contacts include people in the same household, roommates, or anyone with direct contact with the patient's saliva (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend through French kissing). CDC supports state and local health departments in identifying a response that best protects their residents' health.

State and local health departments, or an institution, are the best source of information for a specific outbreak, their specific recommendations, and case details.

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