Fighting Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is caused by a number of different strains of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The bacterium is commonly found in the upper respiratory tract of people and is spread between people through infected droplets in the air.

Meningococcal disease is a rare bacterial disease. In Australia it affects approximately 300 people per year. Although the majority fully recover, 5-10% die and around 20% are left with permanent disabilities.

Meningococcal disease may take the form of either one or two different illnesses caused by the meningococcal bacteria: meningitis or septicemia (blood poisoning).

Risk Factors:

  • Babies and children up to the age of 5 years
  • Teenagers and young adults from 15 to 25 years
  • Multiple ‘intimate kissing’ partners
  • Exposure to smokers
  • A recent viral infection

It takes between 1 to 10 days for symptoms of meningococcal meningitis to show after infection and symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Confusion
  • Irritability and
  • Drowsiness

In Australia, meningococcal infections caused by strain C are vaccine preventable in all age groups, including babies and young children. The highest rate of meningococcal disease occurs in children under 5 years of age, however this has decreased since the introduction of the free meningococcal C vaccine (for all children turning 12 months) to the National Immunization Program in 2003.

Meningococcal B Bacteria has taken over Meningococcal C as a leading cause of meningococcal meningitis and its complication since the introduction of Meningococcal C vaccine.

The recombinant multicomponent meningococcal B vaccine Bexsero (4CMenB) is now available to purchase privately.

November 2014

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