Meningococcal disease is a serious disease caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), meningitis is fatal in 50% of untreated cases.
Approximately 10-20% of the general UK population carry the bacteria at the back of their nose and throat. Carriers do not have symptoms but can develop the disease when the bacteria invade the bloodstream from the back of the nose and throat. Rarely it can progress to septicaemia (blood poisoning) or meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain).
There are 12 different types of N. meningitidis and out of these, 6 are responsible for the majority of invasive disease: A, B, C, W, X and Y. Effective vaccinations are available against groups A, B, C, W and Y.1
The following is a summary about the disease. For further details speak to your local pharmacist or GP.
Meningococcal infection is spread through tiny droplets when coughing or sneezing by infected individuals or individuals who carry the bacteria but are not ill themselves. The infection can also spread through kissing, sharing food/drink and contact through utensils, cutlery and toothbrushes.
Most infections do not cause clinical disease and many people carry the bacteria without any symptoms; they may serve as a carriers of infection for others. Such carriage may provide some immunity to the host against invasive disease.
In the UK, between 5 -11% of adults and up to 25% of adolescents are asymptomatic carriers. Spread of infection is higher in closed populations such as schools and university halls of residence.1
Meningococcal disease occurs worldwide. The highest rates of disease occur in the ‘meningitis belt’ of sub-Saharan Africa typically during the dry season. The full list can be found here:2
Meningococcal disease in the UK
In the UK the incidence has reduced following the introduction of vaccines to control infections caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B, group B and C meningococcus and pneumococcal disease.1
Meningococcal disease and mass gatherings
Mass gatherings provide the potential for large outbreaks. The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is one of the largest gatherings of its kind in the world. Crowded conditions increase the risk of meningococcal disease transmission, and carriage rates during the Hajj can rise up to 80% due to intense overcrowding, high humidity and dense air pollution.1
Typically, the incubation period for meningococcal disease is 2-7 days. Symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease that lead to meningitis and/or septicaemia can cause:
The symptoms can appear in any order and not everyone develops the more common signs and symptoms associated with meningococcal disease.
Presentation in children
Children and young people with the more specific symptoms and signs are more likely to have bacterial meningitis or meningococcal septicaemia and the symptoms and signs may become more severe over time.
Early features to watch for in children:
Classic features (develop later)
Some of the most common complications associated with meningococcal disease are:
If meningococcal disease is suspected then seek medical assistance urgently. The main distinguishing feature is a non-blanching rash but it does not appear in some cases. Other symptoms include high fever and stiff neck. Refer to “What are the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease?” section for more details.
A full list of signs and symptoms can also be found here.4
Travellers who may be at higher risk include:
Travellers are advised to:
There are three types of vaccines against the following meningococcal infections:
The vaccines stimulates the immune system to protect against meningococcal infection in case of infection with the bacteria.1
Travellers who are at continued risk are advised to obtain boosters every 5 years.
Meningococcal ACWY vaccine is recommended for:
Vaccination against meningococcal disease is also available on the NHS in some cases. Individuals may be eligible if:
This information is taken from trusted third party websites, NaTHNaC (Travel Health Pro) and EMIS (Patient info) and use of all information has been licenced under the Open Government. Licence http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/
Although the materials are being used/replicated under the provisions of the Open Government Licence this in no way represents endorsement of Traveljab.co.uk by NaTHNaC, Emis, Public Health England, the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.