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Meningococcal infections


Meningococcus is a bacterium that is found in a person’s airways. Several serogroups or types of meningococcus are circulating in Québec, including serogroups B, C, W and Y.

Meningococcus can cause serious diseases such as:

  • Meningitis: infection of the membranes covering the brain
  • Septicemia: bloodstream infection

Meningococcal infection occurs mainly in late winter and early spring.


The symptoms of meningococcal infection develop from 1 to 10 days after a person is infected by the bacteria. They vary depending on the site affected.

In Québec, 5% to 10% of healthy people are meningococcus carriers, but do not have any symptoms. However, they can unknowingly spread the bacteria.

Meningococcal infection can cause meningitis or septicemia. The main symptoms of these diseases are:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Deterioration of overall condition
  • Rash or tiny, pinpoint hemorrhages or blue spots on the skin

Meningococcal infection can lead to serious complications.

When to consult

If you have any questions about your health or if you have several of these symptoms, call Info-Santé 811 or see your doctor immediately. Only a doctor can diagnose meningococcal infection.


Antibiotics can treat meningococcal infection. The sooner the infection is treated, the better the outcome.


The complications of meningococcal infection vary. The possible complications of meningitis and septicemia are:

  • Arthritis

  • Deafness

  • Heart problems, such as myocarditis or pericarditis

  • Blood circulation problems, such as abnormal coagulation or gangrene

  • Permanent brain damage

  • Amputation of the hands or feet

  • Death


Meningococcus is spread by secretions from the nose or throat of infected people, whether they are ill or not. The infection is spread from person to person by contact with secretions from an infected person’s nose or throat, for example, during kissing when saliva is exchanged.

Protection and prevention


Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against meningococcal infections.

There are several vaccines that can help protect against meningococcal infections. The Québec Immunization Program has provided for the administration of one dose of the meningococcal serogroup C vaccine at 18 months of age, followed by one dose of a meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y vaccine in Secondary 3.

Other vaccines against meningococcus may be recommended in some situations or depending on the person’s health.

Since free meninogococcal C vaccination was introduced in Canada, the number of cases of severe meningococcal serogroup C infections has decreased by almost 97 %.

Procedure to follow to get vaccinated

Under the Québec Immunization Program, anyone under the age of 18 can get vaccinated against meningococcus for free. Go to the Québec Immunization Program page to find out the procedure to follow to get vaccinated.

People at risk

Since the immunization program starts at 18 months of age, children under 18 months are most at risk of getting a meningococcal infection.

Other people who have specific genetic risk factors, such as people who do not have a spleen or who have a dysfunctional spleen, are also at increased risk of getting a meningococcal infection. These people should consult a health professional to find out which meningococcal vaccines are recommended for them.

Special conditions

In Québec, meningococcal infections are reportable diseases.

Laboratory staff and health professionals must notify the public health authorities if they detect a case of meningococcal infection.

Last update: June 22, 2023


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