What is Meningococcal Disease?
Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcus). About 10% of people carry this germ in their throat or nose without getting sick. This means that meningococcus is around us constantly. Sometimes the germ spreads to someone else and gets through their body’s defences, causing serious illnesses like meningitis (swelling of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord) and meningococcemia (a widespread infection of the blood and other organs).
Meningococcal disease often occurs extremely quickly – people can die within a few hours after noticing they are sick. Often times, they become very sick very suddenly and have to rely on others to contact emergency services. Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include sudden high fever, severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck, and a rash. Sometimes people will be sensitive to light and seem sleepy or confused. Other times, people may have complained of a flu-like illness for a couple of days and then suddenly take a turn for the worse.
Although meningococcal disease is not common, it can have devastating effects when it hits. About 1 out of 10 people who get the disease will die from it. Many people who survive the disease have permanent complications including deafness, brain damage, problems with the nervous system including seizures, and loss of their arms and/or legs. The people most likely to get meningococcal disease are children under age 5 and those from age 15-19.
Meningococcal disease can be spread by sharing eating utensils, drinks (bottle, straw), cigarettes, toothbrushes, lipstick, kissing, or any activity where saliva is passed from one person to another. Although anyone can get infected with meningococcal disease, in Canada most outbreaks have occurred in high schools and universities/colleges when children have less adult supervision.
How can Meningococcal disease be prevented?
The Men-C-ACYW135 vaccine can prevent meningococcal disease caused by four strains of bacteria (A, C, Y, and W-135). Vaccine experts are not sure yet if or when a booster will be needed. We know the vaccine is about 80-85% effective in preventing meningococcal disease, and protection lasts for several years after getting the vaccine.
People can also get meningococcal disease type B. The vaccine routinely given in grade 7 and through high school does not protect against this type. If you want more information about getting a vaccine for meningococcal disease type B, call your healthcare provider or the health unit at 1-800-922-0096.
Are there any side effects from the Meningococcal vaccine?
Most people have no serious side effects from the Men-C-ACYW135 vaccine. Many people have short-term mild side-effects like soreness, redness, itching and/or rash where the needle was given. Other side effects may include headache, drowsiness, decreased appetite, fever, tiredness, and diarrhea. Allergic reactions like hives, wheezing, or swelling of the face and mouth are extremely rare. If these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately.
Other Website Links:
Toronto Public Health: Meningococcal Vaccine for Grade 7 Students