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Who is Most at Risk for Contracting Meningococcal Disease?


Babies and young children under the age of one are at highest risk for developing invasive meningococcal disease, followed by adolescents and young adults between the ages of 16 and 23 years of age.1

There are certain environmental and biological factors that increase a person’s risk of developing meningococcal disease. Environmental factors include smoking or living with a smoker, alcohol consumption, and living in crowded environment that may include prisons or military settings.  Low socioeconomic status and minority ethnicity have also been linked to higher rates of meningococcal disease. Biological factors such as functional or anatomic asplenia, genetic polymorphism, and innate immune system deficiencies as well as chronic immune system disorders such as lupus or HIV/AIDS or even a recent respiratory illness will also increase a person’s risk of developing meningococcal disease. 2 3 Additionally, men who have sex with other men, including HIV infected men, may also be at a greater risk for the disease.4

Individuals who take eculizumab (Soliris®), a medication often prescribed for paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) or atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, are also at a higher risk for the disease.5

Having a low level of serum bactericidal antibody (SBA) has also been associated with a higher risk of meningococcal disease.6  Due to genetic and biological factors, a small minority of the population are unable to develop protective antibodies against meningococcal bacteria and have up to a 7,000 times greater risk of developing invasive meningococcal disease in their lifetime.7 8

In 2010, the Imperial College London and the Genome Institute of Singapore conducted a large scale study on invasive meningococcal disease and the complications of meningitis and meningococcemia (septicemia) resulting from the disease.  By comparing the genetic make-up of 1,500 meningococcal meningitis sufferers to nearly 5,000 healthy controls, researchers found that individuals who developed meningitis from meningococcal disease had genetic markers in a number of genes that prevented them from fighting the meningococcal bacteria.  Genetic variations in Factor H and Factor H-related proteins, proteins which regulate part of the immune system by recognizing and killing bacteria, were found to play a role in the risk of meningococcal disease. From their findings, researchers concluded that genetic factors likely play a significant role in the development of invasive meningococcal disease.9 10

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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1 CDC Meningococcal Disease Clinical Information – Burden of Disease Mar. 28, 2017

2 Harrison, LH Epidemiological Profile of Meningococcal Disease in the United States. Clin Infect Dis. 2010 Mar 1; 50(S2): S37.

3CDC. Prevention and Control of Meningococcal Disease: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Mar. 22, 2013; 62(RR02);1-22

4 CDC Meningococcal Disease Surveillance in Men Who Have Sex with Men — United States, 2015–2016 MMWR Sep. 28, 2018 67(38):1060-1063.

5 CDC Meningococcal Disease Clinical Information – Risk Groups Mar. 28, 2017

6 Harrison, LH Epidemiological Profile of Meningococcal Disease in the United States. Clin Infect Dis. 2010 Mar 1; 50(S2): S37.

7 FDA. Use of Serum Bactericidal Antibody as an Immunological Correlate for Demonstration of Effectiveness of Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccines (Serogroup A, C, Y, W-135) Administered to Children Less than 2 years of Age. Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. April 6, 2011.

8Fisher, BL What You Should Know About Meningococcal Disease & The Vaccine. July, 2011.

9 Science Daily. Genetic Differences that Make Some People Susceptible to Meningitis revealed in Major New Study. Imperial College of London, Aug. 9, 2010.

10 Davila S, Wright VJ, Khor CC et al. Genome-wide association study identifies variants in the CFH region associated with host susceptibility to meningococcal disease. Nat Genet. 2010 Sep;42(9):772-6

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