Outbreaks of meningococcal disease are rare in the United States. In fact, only about 1 in 20 cases is related to outbreaks. However, outbreaks are unpredictable and the outcomes can be devastating to affected communities and organizations. In certain outbreaks, CDC recommends vaccination against meningococcal disease to help stop the disease from spreading.
A meningococcal disease outbreak occurs when multiple cases of the same serogroup (type) happen in a population over a short time period. Outbreaks can occur in communities, schools, colleges, prisons, and other populations. Depending on the population size and specific circumstances, health officials may declare an outbreak after just two cases.
Outbreak Control Measures
State and local health departments lead outbreak investigations and implement control measures to reduce spread of the disease. They often work closely with CDC, which has guidance pdf icon[4 MB, 16 pages] to assist with this. In the setting of an outbreak, such recommendations often include:
- Vaccinating people identified as being at increased risk
- Making sure all close contacts of a patient receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease (prophylaxis)
View CDC guidance pdf icon[4 MB, 16 pages] for the evaluation and public health management of suspected outbreaks of meningococcal disease in the United States.
CDC supports state and local health departments in identifying a response that best protects their residents’ health. Contact the state or local health department, or institution, for information about a specific outbreak and their specific recommendations.
CDC recommends vaccinating people identified as being at increased risk during a meningococcal disease outbreak. Which vaccine they should receive depends on the serogroup causing the outbreak.
Outbreaks caused by serogroup A, C, W, or Y
CDC recommends vaccination with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine for anyone 2 months or older identified as being at increased risk. CDC recommends a booster shot for those at increased risk due to an outbreak who received the vaccine more than 5 years prior.
Meningococcal Disease Fact Sheets
CDC offers fact sheets about common outcomes of meningococcal disease, a rare but very serious illness. There is a general fact sheet and versions tailored with serogroup A, C, W, and Y and serogroup B vaccination information.
Outbreaks caused by serogroup B
CDC recommends vaccination with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine for anyone 10 years or older identified as being at increased risk. CDC recommends a booster shot for those at increased risk due to an outbreak who previously received the vaccine series.
Two vaccines provide protection against serogroup B meningococcal disease: Bexsero® (GlaxoSmithKline) and Trumenba® (Pfizer). In the setting of an outbreak, CDC recommends either two shots of Bexsero® or three shots of Trumenba®. It does not matter which brand someone receives. People should get the same vaccine brand for all shots, including the booster shot — Bexsero® and Trumenba® are not interchangeable. If someone decides to switch brands, CDC recommends waiting at least 1 month between products and then getting the full series of the second vaccine.
Experts expect both vaccines to help protect against most serogroup B meningococcal strains circulating in the United States. However, neither vaccine will prevent all cases. Each vaccine may perform better against some strains than others, but actual effectiveness against specific strains remains unknown.
Public health experts recommend that all close contacts of a patient receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease. Close contacts include:
- People in the same household
- 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.