CDC's Bacterial Meningitis Laboratory

Key points

  • CDC has a laboratory that works primarily on Haemophilus influenzae and Neisseria meningitidis.
  • Both of these pathogens are leading causes of bacterial meningitis in the United States.
  • Our laboratorians can assist health departments and public health laboratories upon request.
A CDC laboratorian preps for testing using polymerase chain reaction.

Our work

CDC's Bacterial Meningitis Laboratory focuses on 2 of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in the United States:
  • H. influenzae
  • N. meningitidis

Find laboratory information about Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can also cause bacterial meningitis, on the Streptococcus Laboratory site.

Key activities

Key activities for the Bacterial Meningitis Laboratory include:

  • Supporting laboratory surveillance
  • Helping U.S. laboratories, including in response to outbreaks
  • Building international laboratory capacity
  • Researching special topics

If you have questions, contact us by email at

Laboratory surveillance

CDC's Bacterial Meningitis Laboratory supports laboratory surveillance in 3 primary ways:

  • Active Bacterial Core surveillance (ABCs)
  • Enhanced meningococcal disease surveillance
  • H. influenzae pediatric supplemental surveillance

Active Bacterial Core surveillance

The laboratory supports active collection of laboratory information through ABCs, specifically the Isolate Bank.

Keep Reading:

Enhanced meningococcal disease surveillance

The laboratory also supports enhanced data collection on meningococcal disease in 50 states and 3 large jurisdictions.

H. influenzae pediatric supplemental surveillance

The Bacterial Meningitis Laboratory supports enhanced data collection on H. influenzae isolates from children younger than 5 years of age in 23 jurisdictions.

Why it's important

Collecting laboratory information improves public health efforts to protect people from serious illness caused by these pathogens.

U.S. laboratory support

Best practices: Diagnosing H. influenzae and meningococcal disease‎

Culture and polymerase chain reaction have both advantages and disadvantages when diagnosing H. influenzae and meningococcal disease. Serotype and serogroup information informs public health response and helps identify outbreaks.

Reference center

CDC's Bacterial Meningitis Laboratory is a well-recognized reference center for identification and characterization of H. influenzae and N. meningitidis. For these two pathogens, the laboratory can assist state and local health department laboratories with

  • Characterizing isolates with features that could impact public health
  • Quickly identifying serotype/serogroup during outbreaks
  • Identifying phylogenetic relationships between isolates
  • Developing and implementing laboratory procedures

Report suspected outbreaks to state or local health departments.

All requests require pre-approval

Because of limited resources, the laboratory can't provide molecular characterization for all requests. Characterization is prioritized for isolates or specimens where information is needed to answer pressing public health questions. An outbreak is one example where rapid serotyping/serogrouping and molecular typing has immediate value.

International capacity building

CDC's Bacterial Meningitis Laboratory also helps international laboratories expand their skills and improve the quality of their work. The laboratory serves as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Meningitis.

Specialized research projects

The laboratory is actively involved with specialized research projects that can inform public health prevention and control efforts.


CDC disease sites

Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

In addition to providing current surveillance guidelines, the manual also provides information about specimen collection and shipping.

Manual: Laboratory Methods for the Diagnosis of Meningitis

The World Health Organization and CDC provide methods for diagnosis of meningitis caused by H. influenzae, N. meningitidis , and S. pneumoniae. Download the manual.