Between 1 October 1986 and 31 March 1987, 55 cases of meningococcal disease were identified in the South-West of England, an attack rate of 1·54 per 100000 during the study period. Antibiotics used in the treatment of the disease successfully eliminated nasopharyngeal carriage of meningococci in 13 out of 14 cases without use of rifampicin. The overall meningococcal carriage rate in 384 close contacts was 18·2% and the carriage rate of strains indistinguishable from the associated case strain was 11·1%. The carriage rate of indistinguishable strains in household contacts (16·0%) was higher than the carriage rate in contacts living at other addresses (7·0%,
P> 0·05). A 2·day course of rifampicin successfully eradicated meningococci from 46 (98%) of 47 colonized contacts.
In one third of cases groupable meningococci were isolated from at least one household contact; 92% of these isolates were of the same serogroup as the associated case strain. When a meningococcus is not isolated from a deep site in a clinical case of meningococcal disease, culture of serogroup A or C strains from nasopharyngeal swabs of the case or of household contacts is an indication that the close contact group should be offered meningococcal A + C vaccine in addition to chemoprophylaxis. The failure in this and other studies to isolate meningococci from any household contact in the majority of cases may be due either to the relative insensitivity of nasopharyngeal swabbing in detecting meningococcal carriage or to the acquisition of meningococci by most index cases from sources outside the household.