Invasive Meningococcal Disease

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a severe infection caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. It causes meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain), sepsis (blood poisoning) and pneumonia (lung infection). It can be fatal.

IMD is spread by lengthy, close contact with nose or throat discharges from an infected person or carrier. Anyone can become infected with the disease.

Though rare in the U.S., there have been outbreaks of IMD in the New York City.


Symptoms usually occur two to 10 days after exposure. In most cases, symptoms begin within five days.

Early symptoms are flu-like and include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Weakness
  • Muscle aches

These symptoms can progress quickly over the next day or so to include:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Widespread rash
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

People who experience these symptoms, especially those who have HIV, should seek immediate medical care.


If you have been in prolonged close contact with someone who is infected, you should consider preventive treatment. You may have been exposed if you:

  • Live in the same household as someone who is infected.
  • Engage in sexual activities or other intimate contact with someone who is infected.
  • Work as a health care professional who has performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or procedures involving the nose, mouth and throat (e.g., intubation, suctioning) on someone who is infected.

Children at day care centers who are playmates of an infected child may also be at risk.

Casual contact that occurs in a classroom, office or other work setting is usually not enough to cause concern.


Vaccines can protect against meningococcal bacteria.

The following groups are recommended for routine vaccination:

  • Children aged 11 and 12, with a booster dose at age 16.
  • Children aged 13 to 18, if not previously vaccinated.

People 2 months of age or older should also get vaccinated if they:

  • Are a college freshmen living in a dormitory
  • Have functional or anatomic asplenia, including sickle cell disease
  • Have certain problems with their immune system known as complement deficiencies or take certain medications including eculizumab (Soliris®) and ravulizumab (Ultomiris™)
  • Are living with HIV
  • Work in a lab where they may be exposed to infection
  • Travel to parts of the world where IMD is common
  • Are part of a group of people experiencing an outbreak
  • Are a military recruit

If you are at risk for IMD, your health care provider may be able to vaccinate you. If that is not available, many pharmacies offer meningococcal vaccine.

Vaccines for School and Summer Camp

Meningococcal vaccine is not required for entry to NYC schools or summer camps. All students attending college or boarding schools, or spending at least 10 nights at a children's sleep-away camp, must be informed about IMD and meningococcal vaccine.

Diagnosis and Treatment

IMD is usually diagnosed with a sample of blood or spinal fluid.

Antibiotics are effective in both treating and preventing IMD. The Health Department will contact people believed to have been exposed to IMD and at risk to advise them about the need for antibiotics. If you think you may have been exposed to the disease, talk to your health care provider.

More Information