Communicable Diseases - Meningococcal

Communicable Disease Prevention and Control

What is invasive meningococcal disease?

Invasive meningococcal disease is a very rare but serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. There are different strains of this bacteria, including A, B, C, W, and Y. While some people carry this bacteria in their throat or nose without getting sick, the bacteria can invade other parts of the body and cause serious illness, like meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meninges) or septicemia/meningococcemia, an infection in the bloodstream.

Who can get invasive meningococcal disease?

Although rare, anyone can get invasive meningococcal disease. It is spread by direct contact with secretions from the nose and mouth through activities like kissing, sharing food, drinks, water bottles, toothbrushes, cigarettes and vapes, eating utensils or musical instruments with a mouthpiece.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • change in the level of alertness (like confusion)
  • stiff neck
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • eyes being more sensitive to light
  • skin rash that spreads rapidly and begins as reddish or purplish spots that do not disappear when pressed

What is the treatment?

Invasive meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics. Early diagnosis and treatment are important. If symptoms occur, contact your healthcare provider or visit the nearest emergency department immediately.

How can invasive meningococcal disease be prevented?

  • Stay up to date with vaccination following Nova Scotia’s Routine Immunization Schedule (PDF).
    • Meningococcal C vaccine protects against one strain of meningococcal bacteria and is provided free of charge to children at 12 months of age.
    • Meningococcal ACWY vaccine protects against four strains of meningococcal bacteria and is provided free of charge in grade 7.
    • Meningococcal B vaccine protects against one strain of meningococcal bacteria and is now provided to free of charge to eligible youth up to 25 years of age.
    • Certain individuals with high-risk conditions (PDF) may be eligible for additional doses of meningococcal vaccines on a case-by-case basis. To learn more, speak with a primary care provider or your specialized care team.
    • Meningococcal vaccines for travel (that are not part of Nova Scotia’s Routine Immunization Schedule) may be available for private purchase for those not eligible to receive the vaccine under publicly funded vaccine policy. Talk with your healthcare provider or community pharmacist if you would like more information.
  • Maintain healthy habits such as rest, nutrition, and exercise, as well as reduce contact with secretions from other people’s nose and mouth (like coughing, kissing, sharing utensils, drinking glasses, cigarettes and vapes)
  • Follow cough and sneeze etiquette and good hand hygiene practices using soap with running water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Reduce overcrowding in living quarters and workplaces (like barracks, dormitories, overnight camps, ships)
  • Consult your healthcare provider or a travel health clinic a few months before traveling to countries where invasive meningococcal disease is common.

What if I had contact with someone diagnosed with invasive meningococcal disease?

If someone is diagnosed with invasive meningococcal disease, Public Health will determine and notify anyone identified as having close contact and provide further assessment and advice. Close contact may include:

  • living in the same house
  • sharing sleeping arrangements
  • having direct contamination of your nose and/or mouth (like kissing on the mouth, sharing cigarettes and vapes, sharing drinking bottles)
  • attending or working in the same childcare facility
  • sitting beside the diagnosed person aboard an airplane for 8 hours or more
  • healthcare providers who had intensive unprotected contact (without droplet precautions) during medical procedures

It is important to know that invasive meningococcal disease is not spread by talking to, being in the same room with, or breathing the air from the same room as a diagnosed person.

If you have been in close contact with a person who has meningococcal disease, follow Public Health’s advice, monitor for symptoms, and seek care if they develop.