Risk Factors for Meningococcal Disease

Key points

  • Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but certain people are at increased risk.
  • A person's risk can vary due to many factors.
  • CDC recommends meningococcal vaccination for preteens and teens, as well as people at increased risk for meningococcal disease.
A group of preteens walking down a school hallway.

What increases risk

Factors that increase someone's risk for meningococcal disease include:

  • Age
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Certain medicines
  • Close or lengthy contact with someone with meningococcal disease
  • Places and settings where people work, live, and travel

People at increased risk


Infants, teens and young adults, and older adults have the highest rates of meningococcal disease in the United States. Specifically, healthcare providers more commonly diagnose meningococcal disease in

  • Children younger than 1 year old
  • Teens and young adults ages 16 through 23 years old
  • Adults 65 years and older

Conditions that can increase risk

Certain medical conditions weaken the immune system and increase someone's risk for meningococcal disease:

  • Complement component deficiencies
  • Functional and anatomic asplenia
  • HIV infection

Complement component deficiencies

Complement component deficiencies refer to disorders of the 'complement system,' which helps the body fight off infections. People may have deficiencies of complement components like C3, C5-9, properdin, factor H, and factor D.

These disorders are very rare and usually genetic.

Functional and anatomic asplenia

The spleen is an important organ for fighting meningococcal infections because it helps produce antibodies and filter bacteria. People can have one of two types of asplenia:

  • Anatomic asplenia: Not having a spleen (if it was surgically removed)
  • Functional asplenia: Having a spleen that doesn't work like it should

People with sickle cell anemia have functional asplenia.

HIV infection

A low CD4 count or high viral load increases risk for meningococcal disease for people with HIV.

Fact sheet: What people with HIV need to know‎

This fact sheet describes common outcomes of meningococcal disease, a rare but very serious illness. People with HIV are at increased risk for meningococcal disease and should get a meningococcal conjugate vaccine.

Behaviors that can increase risk

Receiving medicines

People who receive complement inhibitors such as eculizumab (Soliris®) and ravulizumab (Ultomiris™) are at increased risk for meningococcal disease.

Healthcare providers most commonly prescribe complement inhibitors for four rare medical conditions:

  • Atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, a blood disorder
  • Generalized myasthenia gravis, a disorder that leads to muscle weakness
  • Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, a disorder of the brain and spinal cord
  • Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, a blood disorder

Complement inhibitors increase meningococcal disease risk‎

Neither vaccination nor preventive antibiotics can prevent all cases of meningococcal disease in people who receive complement inhibitors. If you take a complement inhibitor and have symptoms of meningococcal disease, get medical care right away. Tell the healthcare provider you are taking a complement inhibitor.

Having close or lengthy contact

People with close or lengthy contact with someone with meningococcal disease are at increased risk of getting sick, especially

  • Anyone with direct contact with the patient's oral secretions, such as a kissing partner
  • People in the same household
  • Roommates
Keep Reading: Causes and Spread

Places with increased risk

Where people work, live, and travel can also increase their risk for meningococcal disease.

The following groups can be at increased risk:

  • Microbiologists who work with the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease
  • College students, compared to other teens and young adults
  • Military recruits, likely due to age and living in a crowded setting (i.e., military training facilities)
  • Travelers to the meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa