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revised June 22, 2016

Arrow BulletMeningococcal Disease


What is Meningococcal Disease?

  • Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis.
  • It can cause meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or meningococcemia (an infection of the blood stream).
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What are the Signs and Symptoms?

  • Signs and symptoms are similar to the flu symptoms but are much more rapid in onset and severity.
  • They include fever, headache, stiff neck (unwillingness to move head up and down), nausea and vomiting.
  • People with this disease are visibly sick and may be confused, irritable or drowsy.
  • Sometimes a reddish skin rash will appear that is flat and smooth.
  • It is important to see your doctor immediately if you develop these symptoms.
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How is it Spread?

  • The bacteria is commonly found in the nose and throat secretions of healthy people (carriers), so it is always in the community.
  • People are exposed to the bacteria by direct contact with saliva or nasal secretions.
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Who is at Risk?

  • Most people who come in contact with the bacteria DO NOT become sick.
  • The majority of adults have already developed immunity.
  • Why one person becomes ill and others do not is unknown.
  • The incubation period for this disease is 2-10 days.
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Is there Treatment?

  • Most people with meningococcal disease recover by taking antibiotics.
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What is Peel Health's Role?

  • All cases of meningococcal disease are reported to Peel Health department.
  • The department’s role is to identify and determine close contacts at risk. Peel Health also answers questions and concerns in the community.
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Who is a Close Contact?

  • Close contacts are persons living in the same household, child care or nursery school, who may have shared saliva with the case. This could be through kissing, sharing toys, foods, drinks or cigarettes.
  • Casual contacts (classroom or fellow workers) are not at increased risk. Sitting next to an infected person or having them cough or sneeze near you is not considered direct contact.
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What is Peel Health's Advice for Contacts?

  • Close contacts who are considered to be at increased risk (shared saliva) are advised to take a specific antibiotic.
  • This antibiotic kills any meningococcal bacteria in the throat. It therefore prevents the contact from getting meningococcal disease and also prevents further transmission in the community.
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When are meningococcal Vaccines Used?

  • Two publicly funded meningococcal vaccines are available to protect against some types of meningococcal disease.
    • The meningococcal C conjugate vaccine protects against one type of the bacteria (type C).
    • The meningococcal ACYW-135 vaccine protects against four of the five most common types of bacteria (type A, C, Y and W-135). This vaccine is approved for use in individuals aged 2 to 55 years of age.
  • Additional meningococcal vaccines are also available for use.
  • Discuss with your doctor which vaccine is best for your situation.
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What is Some Common Sense Advice for Parents?

  • It is important that you understand the disease is not easily spread.
    • Try not to panic about getting this infection. Most people who come in contact with meningococcal disease NEVER get sick.
    • Know the signs of meningococcal disease and when to seek medical attention. If your doctor says it’s the flu but the symptoms get more severe, let your doctor know.
    • Check on a child with a fever frequently. Call your doctor if signs and symptoms worsen.
    • Teach good personal hygiene. Many infections are spread through nose and throat secretions. Don’t share things that have been in your mouth.
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More Information?

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Revised: June 22, 2016

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