Meningococcal meningitis is a serious disease caused by the meningococcal infection of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. At any one time, approximately 10% of healthy people carry the bacteria harmlessly in their nose or throat and do not become ill. There are 13 serogroups (different types) of meningococcal bacteria. In Australia, the most common type is B (around 85% of cases). Cases of type C have reduced because of the introduction of vaccination for type C in children in 2003 as part of the National Immunisation Program.
Meningitis is rarely seen in Australia, but can potentially be very dangerous. 1
Meningococcal meningitis is most common in young children, adolescents and young adults. Symptoms appear between one and 10 days after infection. High fever, headache, neck stiffness, confusion, vomiting and sensitivity to light are the common symptoms. More severe side effects of bacterial meningitis are brain damage, hearing loss or a learning disability. If untreated, meningococcal meningitis is fatal in 50% of cases. 1
Meningococcal is spread from person to person. Close contact, like kissing and sharing cups and plates, or via air droplets when people sneeze or cough, are examples of how the bacteria can spread. Approximately 10% of healthy people carry the bacteria harmlessly in their nose or throat and don’t become ill.1
There are several different strains of meningococcal infections. Vaccines for meningococcal disease caused by A, B, C, Y or W135 strains are available. The vaccine for type C is provided to children free as part of routine immunisation at 12 months of age. Vaccines containing each of the A, C, Y and W1345 strains and a vaccine for the B strain are also available. For further information please contact your healthcare professional.
Different strains are more prevalent in different parts of the world. Overseas, other strains including A, Y and W135 are common. Vaccines that protect against these strains are available and advised for Australians travelling overseas. In some instances, this vaccine is required for entry to a country. For example, it is compulsory for all Hajj pilgrims to have proof of vaccination against A, C, Y and W135 strains to enter Saudi Arabia. Australian travellers are advised to visit their General Practitioner or travel medicine specialist six to eight weeks before travelling overseas to discuss suitable vaccination options. 2
Meningococcal meningitis is diagnosed via a clinical examination and a lumbar puncture. Those with meningococcal meningitis symptoms should seek urgent treatment at a hospital. Doctors will prescribe antibiotic treatment once diagnosis is confirmed. 1
As meningococcal disease is potentially fatal, urgent medical advice at the nearest hospital is advised if someone displays symptoms of the infection. For further information regarding meningococcal vaccination speak with your healthcare professional.