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What is the difference between meningococcal disease and meningitis?

Page last updated 12 October 2018

While meningococcal disease and meningitis are related, they are not the same thing.

Meningitis refers to an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. You can get meningitis from infection with viruses, bacteria and parasites, as well as other non-infectious causes (e.g. head injury or conditions such as lupus).

There are two main types of meningitis:

  • Viral mengingitis (relatively common, most cases are mild and rarely fatal)
  • Bacterial meningitis (rare in comparison, but extremely dangerous and can be fatal)


Bacterial meningitis is very serious and requires medical attention as soon as possible. Some common types of bacterial meningitis include:

  • Hib meningitis – caused by Haemophilus influenzae tybe b (Hib) bacterium
  • Meningococcal meningitis – caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacterium
  • Pneumococcal meningitis – caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium

Meningococcal disease refers to a condition caused by the meningococcal bacterium (or, Neisseria meningitidis). Meningococcal disease can include meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord – this lining is called the meninges), and septicaemia (blood poisoning). 

Sources & Citations

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningitis. Available at (accessed 18 April 2018).
  2. Meningococcal Australia. The Facts. Available at (accessed 26 April 2018).
  3. Ministry of Health. Manutu Hauora. Questions and Answers – Meningococcal Disease. Available at: [accessed 21 May 2018].
  4. Meningitis Now. Meningitis explained, FAQ. Available at: [accessed 21 May 2018].

SPANZ.MENAC.18.05.0181a - Date of preparation May 2018