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Meningococcal Infection


Invasive meningococcal disease is a severe infection caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis.

Since the introduction of routine meningococcal immunization, the rates of meningitis in children have steadily declined.

Since 2011, there has been a dramatic decline in serogroup C disease.  This reflects the impact of meningococcal C immunization programs that began in BC in September 2003.  More detailed rates and trends for invasive meningococcal disease in British Columbia are available in the Annual Summary of Reportable Diseases and the Reportable Disease Dashboard

Information for Health Professionals

Meningococcal infections are caused by the bacteria (germ), Neisseria meningitidis.

  • The bacteria that cause meningococcal infections can be found in the nose and throat of 5 to 10 out of 100 people at any time.
  • However, less than 1 out of 100 of these infected people will develop invasive meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal bacteria can cause life-threatening infections including meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain), septicaemia (infection of the blood), and pneumonia (infection of the lungs).


Symptoms of meningococcal infection occur suddenly and can include:

  • Fever
  • Intense headache
  • Nausea and often vomiting
  • Bulging fontanelle (part of an infant's skull)
  • Stiff neck; stiff back in older children
  • Pinpoint rash

Meningococcal infection is spread from one person to another by:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • close face-to-contact

It can also be spread through saliva or spit in activities such as:

  • kissing
  • sharing food, drinks, cigarettes, lipsticks, water bottles, mouth guards used for sports or mouthpieces of musical instruments

For every 100 people who get sick, up to 15 will die.

Permanent complications of infection include brain damage and deafness.


Diagnosis is based on cultures taken (most often of spinal fluid, blood, lung fluid, or joint fluid) to determine the infection is caused by meningococcal bacteria.

Identification of the type of bacteria responsible is important for selection of the right antibiotics to treat the infection.


A person with a meningococcal infection is treated with antibiotics and is usually hospitalized.

Household and other close contacts (including children and staff in child care and preschool facilities) will be offered antibiotics and sometimes vaccine, depending on the type of meningococcal bacteria that is the cause.


Some types of meningococcal infections can be prevented by immunization.

  • All children in BC are eligible for meningococcal type C vaccine at 2 and 12 months of age.
  • meningococcal quadrivalent vaccine that protects against meningococcal bacteria types A, C, Y and W-135 is offered to students in grade 9.
  • Certain medically high-risk persons are also eligible for the meningococcal quadrivalent vaccine. 

Wash hands well, especially after coughing and sneezing and before preparing foods or eating.

Don't share food, drinks, cigarettes, etc.

SOURCE: Meningococcal Infection ( )
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