Meningitis or Meningococcal Disease

Meningitis Overview

What is Meningitis?

Meningococcal Disease, or Meningitis, as it is commonly called, is a disease caused by a bacterium which is potentially fatal in 5% - 10% of cases.
Meningitis is a disease that occurs world-wide, but the highest risk is in sub-Saharan Africa during the dry season, December - June.

There are many different types of Meningitis, affecting different parts of the world, caused by different strains of the bacterium, and there are different vaccines addressing most of these types. Serious forms of Meningitis can take the form of an infection of the brain lining or an infection of the blood.

How do you get Meningitis?

Meningitis is caused by a bacterium which is spread through contact with saliva or nose or throat fluids of an infected person, through sneezing, coughing, kissing, sharing of eating or drinking utensils, etc.

What are the symptoms of Meningitis?

Most people infected do not show symptoms, but become silent carriers of the bacterium, and can infect others. At any given time, 5%-10% of an overall population may be carriers.
Some people show acute but relatively mild flu-like symptoms, but a small percentage develop more serious nervous or circulatory system problems which in some cases leads to death.

What are the treatments for Meningitis?

Meningitis can be treated with antibiotics.

How can you prevent getting infected with Meningitis?

There are multiple Meningitis vaccines available to combat most strains of Meningitis.
Even though Meningitis vaccination is routine in Canada, and is covered by Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) for example, it is only against one type of the disease, so it is still important to consult your local travel health clinic at least 6 weeks before you travel for possible vaccination against other types of the disease which occur in other parts of the world.

Meningitis Vaccination Requirements

Travelers to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage or for other purposes must show proof of vaccination against Meningitis serogroups A, C, Y and W-135 within the previous 3 years before travel.

Meningitis Symptoms

There are various strains of the bacterium that causes Meningitis, leading to a variety of responses in infected individuals.
Most people infected with Meningitis may show no symptoms at all but instead may remain carriers.
Some infected people show mild flu-like symptoms 2 to 10 days after infection, such as high fever, intense headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting and drowsiness.
A more serious form of Meningitis infections attack the circulatory system, causing haemorrhagic skin rash, circulatory collapse, and a high fatality rate.
Another form of serious Meningitis attacks the brain lining, causing the development of serious nervous-system-related symptoms such as deafness, brain damage, paralysis, seizures, which may lead to death.
Meningitis requires hospitilization and can be treated with antibiotics, but even so, about 5%-10% of cases result in death even with early diagnosis in developed countries.

Meningitis Prevention

There are multiple Meningitis vaccines available for vaccination against different strains of the bacterium which causes this disease.
There is one strain, serogroup B, for which there is no effective vaccine available. This strain typically occurs everywhere in the world, including Canada, except the Meningitis Belt.
While vaccination against serogroup C is now a routine part of the childhood immunization schedule in Canada, and is covered by Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) for example, travelers may still need to be vaccinated against the other Meningitis types which are prevalent in other parts of the world when traveling.
Please consult your local travel medicine centre for more Meningitis vaccination advice.

Other preventative measures include:

  • Avoid overcrowded areas or large gatherings
  • Avoid travel to countries with recent Meningitis outbreaks, especially the Meningitis Belt
  • Avoid travel during the December - June "dry period"
  • Avoid sharing utensils
  • Monitor your own health for signs of the disease and seek treatment immediately
  • Be aware that people can be carriers showing on signs of infection