Meningococcal disease: guidance, data and analysis

The characteristics, diagnosis, management, surveillance and epidemiology of meningococcal disease.

Humans are the only known reservoir for Neisseria meningitidis (also known as the meningococcus). Around 10% of the population carries the meningococcus in the back of their throat or nose without causing any illness. It is transmitted from person to person by inhaling respiratory secretions from the mouth and throat or by direct contact (kissing). Close and prolonged contact is usually needed for transmission.

Occasionally, the meningococcus can cause invasive disease, including meningitis (inflammation of the meninges), septicaemia (blood poisoning) and pneumonia. Young children and teenagers are at highest risk of meningococcal disease. It is not known why some individuals carry the bacteria without them causing harm while others go on to develop invasive disease.

Early signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease may be non-specific and, therefore, difficult to distinguish from common and self-limiting viral illnesses. More detailed information on the symptoms of meningococcal disease is available on the Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now websites.

Diagnosis and management

Meningococcal disease is a notifiable disease in England and Wales. Notifications provide timely data relating to age and trends over time.

Data collection

Laboratories that diagnose a case of meningococcal infection should refer all cases for further characterisation at the Meningococcal Reference Unit (MRU). Serogrouping is important to inform the subsequent management of case contacts, while strain differentiation and genotyping are useful for investigation of potentially linked cases and outbreaks.


Epidemiological data is obtained from 3 main sources:

  • notifications: based on clinical diagnosis (statutory)
  • laboratory confirmed reports of invasive meningococcal disease: routine laboratory reports using data from the Meningococcal Reference Unit (MRU)
  • death data: from Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) death certificate information. Data from the routine laboratory reporting system (from the MRU) and ONS deaths are matched

Updates to this page

Published 31 July 2014
Last updated 29 March 2023 + show all updates
  1. Added 'Meningococcal disease: laboratory-confirmed cases in England in 2022 to 2023'.

  2. Added Meningococcal disease: laboratory-confirmed cases in England in 2021 to 2022.

  3. Added 'Meningococcal disease: laboratory-confirmed cases in England in 2020 to 2021'.

  4. Added 'laboratory confirmed cases in England in 2019 to 2020 report.'

  5. Added 'Meningococcal disease: laboratory confirmed cases in England in 2018 to 2019'.

  6. Added new PGD template for the supply of ciprofloxacin.

  7. Addition of meningococcal enhanced surveillance plan

  8. First published.