Meningococcal disease continues to be disabling and deadly, especially for infants and adolescents
Rates of meningococcal disease have been declining in the United States since the late 1990s, and in 2016, there were about 370 total cases of meningococcal disease reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, it is a deadly disease, affecting primarily children and young adults. Rates of meningococcal disease are highest in children younger than age 1 year, followed by a peak in adolescents and young adults, with those aged 16-23 years having the highest rates in this portion of the population. Of all cases of meningococcal disease, 21% affect preteens, teens, and young adults aged 11-24 years. Even with antibiotic treatment, 10%-15% of patients infected with Neisseria meningitidis die. Of those who survive, 11%-19% have permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function, or limb amputations, according to the CDC. There are vaccines for a number of the serotypes of N. meningitidis, the organism that causes meningococcal disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all children aged 11-12 years be vaccinated with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against serotypes A, C, W, and Y. The vaccine should also be given to children aged 12-23 months who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease. But why does ACIP only recommend that all adolescents and young adults (16-23 years) may be vaccinated with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, preferably at age 16-18 years? There are other questions about meningococcal disease, its prevention, and treatment. What is the difficulty of early recognition of meningococcal infection? How long does the protection of vaccines against N. meningitidis last? What are the costs of untreated meningococcal infection?