People Most at Risk

Bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria (meningococcal disease) can be fatal and should always be viewed as a medical emergency. About 10% of infected people die from the disease. In non-fatal cases, those affected experience long-term disabilities, such as brain damage, loss of limb, or deafness. Preventing the disease through the use of meningococcal vaccine is important.

Although anyone can get meningitis, pre-teens and adolescents, college freshmen who live in dormitories and travelers to countries where meningitis is always present are at an increased risk for meningococcal disease. Before the availability of effective vaccines, bacterial meningitis was most commonly diagnosed in young children. Now, as a result of the protection offered by current childhood vaccines, bacterial meningitis is more commonly diagnosed among pre-teens and young adults.

Like bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis can affect anyone. But infants younger than 1-month old and people whose immune systems are weak are at higher risk for severe infection. People who are around someone with viral meningitis have a chance of becoming infected with the virus that made that person sick, but they are not likely to develop meningitis as a complication of the illness.

Pre-teens and Adolescents

As children reach their pre-teen and adolescent years, protection provided by some childhood vaccines can begin to wear off. As a result, pre-teens and adolescents are at a greater risk for catching certain diseases. Introducing vaccinations during the pre-teen years increases the level of protection during adolescence. For this reason, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends routine vaccination of pre-teens and for those adolescents who have not yet received 1-dose of MCV4.

Because the incidence of meningococcal disease increases during adolescence, the ACIP recommends routine vaccination of all persons aged 11-18 years. Children aged 11-12 years should visit their health care providers to receive 1-dose of MCV4 and other preventive services.

To learn more about pre-teen and adolescent vaccines, visit the vaccine site.

College Freshmen

College freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at a slightly increased risk for bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria (meningococcal disease) compared with other persons of the same age. As of 2009, a total of 34 states have adopted legislation requiring colleges to provide information on risks of meningococcal disease to incoming students and/or students residing on campus, and 15 states have mandated vaccination for certain students, unless a vaccination waiver is provided.

There are currently two vaccines licensed in the United States to protect against meningococcal meningitis. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has issued the following recommendations regarding the use of vaccines for college students.

Public health agencies should provide colleges and health-care providers with information about meningococcal disease and the vaccine as well as information regarding how to obtain the vaccine.


The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends vaccination against bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria (meningococcal disease) to persons who travel to or reside in countries in which the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis is hyperendemic or epidemic, particularly if contact with the local population will be prolonged. The MCV4 vaccine is preferred for persons aged 2-55 years. MPSV4 is the recommended vaccine for persons over age 55; MPSV4 is also an acceptable alternative for persons aged 2-55 years. Travelers who have been vaccinated previously for meningococcal disease should follow recommendations for booster doses.

Vaccination against meningococcal disease is not a requirement for travel to any country except Saudi Arabia, where travelers to Mecca during the annual Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage must have proof of vaccination with quadrivalent vaccine in the last 3-years. Vaccination is recommended for persons traveling to the meningitis belt in Africa during the dry season, December through June. Advisories for travelers to other countries will be issued when epidemics of meningococcal disease caused by vaccine-preventable serogroups are recognized.