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Meningococcal Outbreaks

Outbreaks of meningococcal disease are rare in the United States; only about 2 to 3 out of every 100 cases are related to outbreaks. However, the onset of an outbreak is unpredictable and the outcomes can be emotionally devastating to affected communities and organizations. In certain outbreaks, vaccination against meningococcal disease is recommended to help stop the disease from spreading.

Outbreak Definition

Outbreaks can occur in communities, schools, colleges, prisons, and other populations. An outbreak occurs when there are multiple cases of the same serogroup ("strain") in a community or institution over a short period of time. Depending on the size of the institution, having just two cases of the same serogroup may be considered an outbreak.

Outbreak Control Measures

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
  • Making sure all close contacts of a patient receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease; this is known as prophylaxis

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

Vaccination

During an outbreak caused by serogroup A, C, W, or Y meningococcal disease, vaccination with a quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended for those 2 months or older identified as being at increased risk because of the outbreak. For outbreaks caused by serogroup B meningococcal disease, vaccination with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine is routinely recommended for those 10 years or older identified as being at increased risk because of the outbreak.

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.

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