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Is Meningococcal Disease Contagious?

Updated February 04, 2024

meningococcal vaccine
Image source: CDC PHIL

Meningococcal disease is contagious, but is not easily spread. N. meningitidis is a very fragile bacteria and does not survive very long outside of the body and causes invasive meningococcal disease.  

Invasive meningococcal disease is very rare in the United States. In 2020, there were approximately 235 cases of invasive meningococcal disease reported to the CDC.  Between 1998 and 2007 and prior to the introduction of vaccines targeting meningococcal serogroups A, C, Y, and W-135, meningococcal disease rates had already decreased substantially to less than one case per 100,000 population. 

Transmission of the disease requires one to be susceptible to the disease and to have direct close and lengthy contact, such as kissing or sharing items such as silverware, drinking glasses, toothbrushes, or lipstick, or by living in the same household as a carrier.       

However, living in the same household as a carrier or someone suffering from meningococcal disease does not necessarily place a person at high risk for developing meningococcal disease. Studies have shown that only 3-4 percent of household members contract a secondary case of meningococcal disease when a family member has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease. Secondary risk transmission generally occurs in only 2-4 cases per 1,000 household members. 

Between 10-20 percent of the population are asymptomatic carriers of N. meningitidis, the bacteria responsible for invasive meningococcal disease. Although asymptomatic carriers have no symptoms, they can potentially transmit the bacteria to others. 

Studies have also found that genetics play a role in both one’s susceptibility to invasive meningococcal disease as well as to disease outcomes. 

Learn about treatment and prevention and injury and death related to meningococcal disease.

NVIC “Quick Facts” is not a substitute for becoming fully informed about Meningococcal disease, meningitis and the Meningococcal vaccine. NVIC recommends consumers read the more complete information following the "Quick Facts", as well as the vaccine manufacturer product information inserts, and speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child.

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