Meningococcus is a bacterium that is found in a person’s airways. There are several serogroups or types of meningococcus, including serogroups A, B, C, W and Y. In Québec, serogroup B meningococcus is the most common type.
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 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 normally prevent the spread of meningococcal infection within 24 hours of treatment. The sooner the infection is treated, the better the outcome.
The complications of meningococcal infection vary. The possible complications of meningitis and septicemia are:
- 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 in 10% to 15% of people infected with serogroup C meningococcus.
In 10% to 15% of people infected with serogroup C meningococcus, the complications can be fatal.
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. Since June 1, 2019, Québec’s immunization schedule has provided for the administration of the meningococcal serogroup C vaccine at 18 months of age, followed by a booster vaccine in Secondary 3. The first dose was previously given at 12 months.
Other vaccines 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 serogroup C meningococcus for free. Go to the Québec Immunization Program page to find out the procedure to follow to get vaccinated.
People at risk of meningococcal infection should see a health professional to find out which meningococcal vaccines are recommended for them.
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.
Anyone who is not protected can become infected with meningococcus. Children under 12 months of age are most at risk of meningococcal infection.
Other groups also have a higher risk of meningococcal infection:
- Children under 5 years of age
- People who live with several other people
- People who travel to regions where the bacteria is found
- People who have specific genetic risk factors, such as people who do not have a spleen or who have a dysfunctional spleen
- People who already have another respiratory infection , for example, the flu
- People who have HIV
Last update: October 22, 2015