Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (or meningococcus). There are 13 known types (or serogroups) of the bacterium and globally the ones that commonly cause disease are A, B, C, W 135 and Y.

In Australia, serogroup B causes most disease, especially since the meningococcal serogroup C (‘MenC’) vaccine program began in 2003. Of the 194 cases of meningococcal disease notified in Australia in 2012, 83% were due to serogroup B. The rest were due to serogroup C (6%), serogroup W135 (4%) and serogroup Y (8%).

Meningococcal disease can affect all age groups, but is most common in children under 5 years of age and in young adults (15 to 24 years). Meningococcal disease can occur throughout the year but is most common in winter and spring.

Meningococcal disease may result in:

  • meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)
  • septicaemia (infection of the blood)
  • joint infection
  • eye infection
  • pneumonia (lung infection or inflammation)
  • a rash.

How meningococcal infection is spread

About 10% of people are carriers of the N. meningitidis bacteria. The bacterium remains harmlessly in their nose and throat. The bacteria are spread from infected people or carries from respiratory droplets in the air which occurs when these people cough, sneeze or talk. Only a very small number of people in close contact with carriers develop meningococcal disease as it is difficult to catch.

Factors that may increase the risk of contracting meningococcal disease include cigarette smoking, (both active and passive), recent illness, living in crowded conditions and having multiple intimate kissing partners. Contact with saliva from the front of the mouth (for example, from sharing drinks or cigarettes) has not been shown to cause meningococcal disease.

Signs and symptoms

In infants and young children, the symptoms include:

  • fever
  • refusing to take feeds
  • fretfulness
  • child difficult to wake
  • high-pitched or moaning cry
  • tiny red or purple spots that soon spread and enlarge to look like fresh bruises
  • pale or blotchy skin
  • abnormal skin colour
  • leg pain
  • cold hands and feet

In older children and adults, the symptoms include:

  • headache
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • neck stiffness
  • photophobia (discomfort when looking at light)
  • drowsiness or confusion
  • tiny red or purple spots that soon spread and enlarge to look like fresh bruises
  • collapse
  • joint pains.

Treatment and Prevention

Antibiotics are used to treat those infected and close contacts of those infected. It is important to act promptly if meningococcal disease is suspected.

Prevention is always best and this is achieved via vaccination. There is no single vaccine that offers protection against all the meningococcal types.

Vaccines available in Australia

  • Meningococcal C vaccines (MenCCV)- NeisVac-C
  • Combination vaccine meningococcal C and Haeomphilus influenza type B (Hib-MenCCV)-Menitorix
  • Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccines for A, C, W 135 and Y (4vMenCV)- Menactra, Nimenrix
  • Meningococcal B vaccine (MenBV)- Bexsero

These vaccines are now available and either can be ordered from our warehouse or wholesaler. Most stores have stocks of the Meningococcal B vaccine (MenBV) in store.

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The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and should be used as a guide only. This information does not replace or substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before any action is taken based on the content of this webpage.

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