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Meningococcal Disease

Fact Sheet

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a very serious illness caused by meningococcal bacteria. The bacteria enter the body through the nose and throat. The bacteria can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord or the blood.

Meningococcal bacteria are commonly found in throats of people who have no symptoms and never become ill.

How can I get meningococcal disease?

It is spread by direct contact with nose and throat secretions of an infected person through coughing, sneezing and kissing, or sharing saliva. This type of bacteria does not survive very long outside the body.

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

The symptoms may develop rapidly, sometimes in a matter of hours, and if left untreated can lead to death. However, the symptoms may appear any time between two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within three to four days.

Symptoms vary depending on the area of the body the bacteria infects. Common symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability, agitation, and fussiness
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A rash that does not fade under pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pain in muscles, joints, and abdomen

If the bacteria enters the lining of the brain or spinal cord, other symptoms that can occur include stiff neck and pain when moving neck.

When is someone with meningococcal disease contagious?

Meningococcal disease can be contagious seven days before the start of symptoms up until 24 hours of receiving appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Who is at risk for meningococcal disease?

People living in the same household with the infected person are at risk of developing the disease, as well as people who come in direct contact with the infected person’s nose and throat secretions.
Most people who come in contact with meningococcal disease do not become sick. The disease primarily affects very young children, teenagers, and young adults.

What should I do if I have symptoms of meningococcal disease?

Anyone who has had close contact with someone with meningococcal disease within 10 days and develops a fever with symptoms as listed here should see a health care provider (HCP) immediately. Your HCP may order tests to diagnosis meningococcal disease.

To avoiding infecting others, avoid sharing objects with others that may have come into contact with your saliva. Clean your hands often with soap and warm water or alcohol-based hand cleanser. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw used tissues away immediately, and wash your hands.

Can I get meningococcal disease more than once?

Yes. Infection with one serogroup (strain) of the meningococcal bacteria does not give protection against other strains of the bacteria.

How is meningococcal disease treated?

Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics. Take the antibiotics as your HCP prescribes making sure to complete all of the medicine. If side effects from the medication are giving you problems, contact your HCP right away.

A person is no longer infectious after taking appropriate antibiotics for 24 hours.

What should I do if I come into contact with meningococcal disease?

Close contacts such as people who live in the same household or have had contact with the nose and throat secretions of the ill person should talk to a HCP about taking antibiotics. Close contacts should monitor for any
signs and symptoms of disease and seek medical attention if symptoms develop.

Casual contacts such as classmates or co-workers may not need preventive antibiotics.

What can I do to prevent meningococcal disease?

To prevent the spread of this type of bacteria, avoid sharing objects that have come in contact with another person’s mouth. Clean your hands often with soap and warm water or alcohol-based hand cleanser. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw used tissues away immediately, and wash your hands.

There are three types of vaccine available to protect you against meningococcal disease: Men-C (protects against C strain), Bexsero (protects against B strain) and Menactra (protects against A, C, Y and W-135 strains).

Men-C and Menactra are given routinely as part of childhood/adolescent immunizations.

Bexsero is available, but currently not publicly-funded (free). Talk to your HCP for more information.

Publicly funded vaccine is also available for high risk groups, including people with:

  • problems with their immune system (ex. HIV)
  • no spleen or a spleen that does not work properly
  • cochlear implants

Meningococcal vaccine or booster doses of vaccines may be recommended for travel. Please discuss with your physician or travel clinic for vaccination options.

Does the meningococcal vaccine give lifelong protection?

No. Immunity from the vaccine gradually decreases over time. A booster dose of vaccine may be recommended for adults.

Who can I call for more information?

For more information talk to your health care provider or call the Halton Region Health Department.