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In Australia, most meningococcal disease cases occur mainly in winter or early spring.

Meningococcal - What is it?

Meningococcal disease is a contagious infection caused by meningococcus bacteria. There are 13 known types (serogroups) of this bacteria, but only 5 (types A, B, C, W135 & Y) commonly cause disease worldwide.

Meningococcal disease can cause meningitis (inflammation around the brain) and septicaemia (infection of the blood) or a combination of both.

Although meningococcal disease is not common, it is a very serious disease. Even with treatment, the overall risk of death is high. Furthermore, 10 to 30% of children and adolescents who survive, will end up with a permanent disability or deformity.

Meningococcal - What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of meningococcal disease can occur between 1 and 10 days (commonly around 3 to 4 days) after infection.

Symptoms may vary and can include sudden onset of high fever, headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, confusion, muscle aches, joint pain, cold hands, thirst, nausea, vomiting, and a dark purple rash which does not disappear with gentle pressure on the skin.

As meningococcal infection is very serious, quick diagnosis and emergency treatment is very important.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following a meningococcal infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about meningococcal infection.

Meningococcal - How is it spread?

Meningococcal bacteria live naturally in the back of the nose and throat in about 10% of people, without causing illness. These people are known as carriers and can spread the disease.

The disease is spread by regular and close contact with respiratory (mucous or saliva) droplets from an infected person. The risk of infection is increased by prolonged, regular close contact such as intimate kissing or living in a household.

Meningococcal - Who is at risk?

Most meningococcal disease occurs in young children less than 5 years of age and in older adolescents or young adults (15 to 24 years of age).

Exposure to smokers, recent or current illness in the upper respiratory tract, conditions that weaken the immune system, living in crowded conditions and multiple intimate kissing partners may increase the risk of catching the disease.

Other people may be at risk of meningococcal disease. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

Meningococcal - Vaccination

Meningococcal C vaccination is recommended and provided free for children as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). It is usually given at 12 months of age.

Meningococcal C vaccination is also recommended for close household contacts of someone infected with meningococcal type C disease.

Routine vaccination against meningococcal type A, C, W135 and Y is not recommended, however it is recommended for the following:

  • travellers over 9 months of age going to countries where there is a high risk of meningococcal disease
  • pilgrims who attend the Hajj or Umrah require a valid certificate of vaccination
  • close contacts in cases of disease, and/or outbreak situations

Vaccines against Meningococcal B are becoming available in several countries around the world.

Other individuals may also be at risk of meningococcal disease, and vaccination may be recommended. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

Meningococcal - Treatment

As death due to meningococcal disease can occur in a matter of hours, quick diagnosis and emergency treatment is very important. Those who are suspected of having meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics by injection and referred to hospital. Close contacts may also receive antibiotics, and possibly vaccination.

For information about meningococcal immunisation in your area, contact your State or Territory Health Department or doctor.


Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare professional.




AUS/VAC/0035/15. Date of approval: April 2015.