What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease refers to any illness that is caused by a bacteria known as the Meningococcus. The illnesses caused by meningococcal bacteria are often severe or even life-threatening and can include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, called bacterial meningitis and infections of the blood.
Invasive meningococcal disease is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?
The symptoms of meningococcal infection can be different depending on the type of illness the bacteria are causing. Early symptoms can include sudden onset of:
- aches and pains
- loss of appetite
- feeling generally unwell
Meningitis caused by meningococcal bacteria can cause symptoms of nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion. Symptoms of a blood infection may be similar to meningitis and may also include rapid breathing, severe aches in the muscles, joints or abdomen and in later stages the development of a dark purple rash.
It is important to see a healthcare provider right away if symptoms of meningococcal disease are present.
How is meningococcal disease spread?
Meningococcal disease spreads from person to person through close contact with saliva and secretions (fluids) from the throat and nose. These secretions can be transmitted to another person by kissing, coughing, sneezing, and sharing personal items like water bottles, utensils and toothbrushes. Items like children’s toys that are put in the mouth or have contact with saliva can also spread the bacteria.
The risk of the infection spreading is higher in group settings (for example, within families and child care settings) than in the general population.
How is meningococcal disease treated?
Treatment of meningococcal disease is done in the hospital where the person can be given supportive care, antibiotics and fluids.
How is meningococcal disease prevented?
There are many different types of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Different vaccines protect against most of them. Children receive a vaccine in infancy against the most common type of meningococcal bacteria (type C) as part of the routine immunization schedule. Adolescents receive vaccination that protects against additional types of meningococcal bacteria (A,C,Y,W-135).
Vaccination is also available for type B meningococcal bacteria for children with certain health conditions.
People who are travelling to areas where meningococcal disease is a risk should also consider getting vaccinated.
Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.