About this disease

Meningococcal disease: Sumeyra’s story

Sumeyra contracted Meningococcal disease, a sometimes life-threatening illness when she was 20 years old. She had to be placed in a medically induced coma. Luckily Sumeyra survived, but she still suffers from the effects of Meningococcal disease today.



Meningococcal disease is a rare but often life-threatening disease caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (commonly known as the meningococcus). There are 13 strains of meningococcus. The strains that worldwide are the most common cause of disease are A, B, C, W and Y.

There has been a recent increase in strain W since 2013, which now makes up almost half of Australian cases. Meningococcal W presently has a higher death rate than the other strains because most cases are due to a particularly virulent strain.

Most meningococcal disease occurs in children aged under five years of age and in older adolescents and young adults.1

  • 1. Meningococcal vaccines for Australians/NCIRS Fact sheet: March 2017


People with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly. They may feel sicker than they have ever felt before. After being infected, it usually takes one to ten days for symptoms to appear. The possible symptoms are: fever, rash, headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, muscle aches, cold hands and feet, confusion, irritability, joint pain, nausea and vomiting.

Babies often don’t have many of these symptoms but may be febrile, be slow or inactive, unsettled, drowsy, floppy and not feeding.

How it is spread

Meningococcus is only carried and passed on by humans. It is spread by coughing, sneezing and regular, close, prolonged household or intimate contact with infected secretions from the back of the nose and throat. The bacteria can only survive a few seconds outside the body so they cannot be picked up from the environment.

Carriage rates are highest in older teenagers.


People with meningococcal disease could develop a number of conditions:

  • An infection of the lining around the brain (meningitis)
  • An infection of the blood (septicaemia)
  • Joint infection (arthritis)
  • Lung infection (pneumonia)
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death in up to 10%2

1 in 5 people3 who recover may have lingering health problems. Many of the problems get better with time. Some of the issues experienced are:

  • Skin scarring (1 in 30)
  • Limb deformity
  • Deafness
  • Blurring and double vision
  • Learning difficulties
  • 2.https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/meningococcal-disease

    3. Meningococcal Australia The Facts 2014 Accessed 8 August 2017


Immunisation is the best protection against meningococcal disease.


Who should get immunised?


Quadrivalent meningococcal disease vaccine protects against strains A, C, W and Y. It is part of the National Immunisation Program and is free for children aged 12 months.

In most states/territories, the vaccine is free for adolescents between 15-19 years of age. In states where it is not funded, the vaccine is available as a private prescription for adolescents.

Vaccine is also available as a private prescription for:

  • Some travel destinations, occupations and medical conditions
  • Anyone over 2 months* wanting to protect themselves or their family from these strains of meningococcal disease4,5

* Menveo is the only brand of 4vMenCV that should be used in infants <12 months of age

Meningococcal B vaccine is available on private prescription for:

  • Infants, young children, adolescents, young adults living close together, some medical conditions and occupations
  • Anyone over 6 weeks* wanting to protect themselves or their family from this strain of meningococcal6

* MenBV is registered for use from 2 months of age. However, the 1st dose can be given as early as 6 weeks of age to align with the schedule for other routine infant vaccines.


From 1 October 2018 Meningococcal B vaccinations will be available in a phased implementation in South Australia. For more information, see here.


Meningococcal C disease is now very well controlled with only a handful of cases per year.

  • 4.http://www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/publichealth/communicable_diseases_prevention_unit/infectious_diseases/meningococcal_disease

    5. Meningococcal vaccines for Australians/NCIRS Fact sheet: March 2017

    6. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th ed part 4 (page last updated 1st August 2017). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health; 2015


If meningococcal disease is suspected, an antibiotic (usually penicillin) is given immediately by injection. People with meningococcal disease are almost always admitted to hospital and may require admission to an intensive care unit.

Info for Clinicians

  • Notifications of MenW doubled from 2014 (17) to 2015 (34), then more than tripled in 2016 (109) surpassing serogroup B (92 cases).1  In 2017 it increased again to about 140 cases.


    Many of the MenW cases belong to the hypervirulent sequence type (ST) 11. ST 11 is associated with a higher risk of invasive disease, complications and a higher case fatality rate.


    MenC, the target of a national immunisation programme since 2003, has dramatically declined from 225 notifications in 2002 to 3 notifications in 2016 (a 99% decline).


    There has been a smaller increase in serogroup Y disease from 12 cases in 2014 to 41 cases in 2016 and 75 cases in 2017, across the country.


    Serogroup A remains rare in Australia.


    Most meningococcal disease occurs in children aged less than 5 years of age and young people aged 15-24 years. MenW also has its peak in these age groups however, it is also somewhat increased in older adults. MenW accounted for 59% of Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) in adults aged over 65 years in 2016.2

  • About one in 10 people can have meningococcal bacteria in their throat or nose. These very rarely cause illness.


    Adolescents have the highest carriage rates, peaking in 19-year olds, and so play an important role in transmission.3

  • See references 4,5

    Symptoms Septicaemia Meningitis
    Fever and/or vomiting

    Severe headache  

    Limb joint muscle pain

    Cold hands and feet/chills

    Pale or mottled skin

    Breathing fast/breathless


    Stiff neck  

    Dislike of bright lights  

    Very sleepy/vacant




  • A common presentation of meningococcal serogroup W disease in Australia has been severe sepsis. Classical meningitis symptoms have been less common. Serogroup W disease has also been associated with atypical presentations, such as septic arthritis, pneumonia and epiglottitis, in up to 20% of cases.6

  • See reference 7

    Individuals at greater risk of meningococcal infection:

    • Immunocompromised due to: Certain disorders of the immune system (particularly complement deficiencies)
    • HIV infection
    • Haemotapoetic stem cell transplant
    • Certain medical treatments (e.g. eculizimab)
    • Asplenia
    • Occupational exposure in labs
    • Exposure to smokers (who are more likely to be carriers)
    • Crowded living conditions
    • Intimate kissing with multiple partners
    • Recent or current viral infection
  • Vaccines

    Three types of meningococcal disease vaccines are available in Australia:

    • meningococcal C conjugate vaccine (MenCCV) is available as:

    – a single vaccine (NeisVac-C)
    – a combination with Haemophilus type B (Menitorix)

    • meningococcal B vaccine (MenBV) Bexsero
    • quadrivalent (A, C, W, Y) meningococcal conjugate vaccines (4vMenCV): Menactra, Menveo and Nimenrix
  • See reference 8

    Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccines (4vMenCV for serogroups A, C, W and Y)

    Trade Name/Age available Formulation Who should be vaccinated?
    Menactra (from 2 years of age onwards) Quadrivalent diphtheria toxoid conjugate Those with increased medical, occupational or other exposure including travel risks of meningococcal disease caused by serogroups A, C, W and Y.


    Adolescents/ young adults 15-19 years of age


    Vaccination may be offered to anyone aged 2 months or older wishing to reduce the risk of Men A, C, W and Y.


    Availability: Private prescription

    Funded on NIP at 12 months of age.9

    Funded vaccination in most states or territories for adolescents/young adults aged 15-19 years of age.

    On private prescription for other individuals.

    Menveo* (from 2 months onwards) Quadrivalent CRM 197 conjugate
    Nimenrix (from 12 months onwards) Quadrivalent tetanus toxoid conjugate


    Menactra is approved for use in children from 2 years of age. PI states upper age limit is 55 years of age. The ATAGI recommends instead that this vaccine can be given to persons > 55 years of age.


    Nimenrix is indicated for active immunisation of individuals from the age of 12 months. PI states upper age limit is 55 years of age. The ATAGI recommends instead that this vaccine can be given to persons > 55 years of age.


    Menveo vaccine schedule for children from 2 to 23 months of age. *Menveo is the only brand of 4vMenCV that should be used in infants < 12 months of age.


    States/Territories offering funded quadrivalent (A, C, W and Y) meningococcal disease vaccine to adolescents from 1st July 2018:


    ACT: Students in Year 10 with catch up for 16-19 year olds

    NSW: Students in Years 10-11

    Victoria, Queensland: Adolescents from 15-19 years of age

    WA: Individuals 15-19 years of age

    Vaccine is available in other states/territories on private prescription


    Benefits of vaccinating adolescents:

    1. Prevent meningococcal disease in adolescents
    2. Prevent the spread of meningococcal disease to the broader community (herd immunity)


    Administering quadrivalent meningococcal disease vaccines

    Menactra is in a liquid form and simply drawn up and administered to the individual.


    Menveo* and Nimenrix** consist of a powder and a liquid which need to be combined before they are administered.


    *Menveo contains one vial with lyophilised Meningococcal Group A conjugate and a syringe containing liquid Meningococcal C, W-135 and Y conjugate component.


    **Nimenrix contains a white lyophilised powder reconstituted with normal saline


    Meningococcal C conjugate vaccines (MenCCV for serogroup C)

    Trade Name Formulation Who should be vaccinated?
    NeisVacC Men C conjugate vaccine All children at 12 months



    Monovalent vaccine replaced by Hib-MenCCV combination vaccine for use under NIP since July 2013.


    In July 2018, Men A, C, W and Y replaced Hib-Men C on the NIP at 12 months

    In July 2018, an injection of Hib became available on NIP at 18 months as Hib is no longer available at 12 months (Reference 9)

    Catch up vaccine for children 10-19 years of age


    Availabilty: Funded under NIP for children aged 12 months and as a catch-up vaccine for children 10-19 years of age.

    Menitorix Hib-MenC conjugate combination vaccine


    Meningococcal B vaccine (MenBV for serogroup B)

    Trade Name Formulation Who should be vaccinated?


    In SA

    Bexsero for childhood program


    Bexsero/Trumenba for school immunisation program and under 21 catch up program

    Recombinant multi-component


    Infants and young children, particularly those < 2 years, adolescents and those with increased medical or occupational exposure risks of MenB disease.


    Vaccination can be offered to anyone aged 6 weeks* or older who wants to reduce the risk of MenB disease.


    Availabilty: Private prescription.

    Funded vaccination may be available in some states or territories for adolescents


    Funded vaccination available in SA for10:

    • 6 weeks to 12 months of age: Meningococcal B Childhood program commencing October 2018/ ongoing
    • Catch up program over 12 months to 4 years of age: October 2018 – 31 December 2019
    • Year 10 Men B Vaccination commencing February 2019/ ongoing
    • Year 11 Men B Catch up program commencing February 2019 – 31 December 2019
    • 17 years to less than 21 years of age Meningococcal B Young adult catch up program commencing February 2019 – December 2019

    * MenBV is registered for use from 2 months of age. However, the 1st dose can be given as early as 6 weeks of age to align with the schedule for other routine infant vaccines.11

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccines are safe and well tolerated.


    Meningococcal 4vMen CV
    Side effects may include fever, headache, dizziness and erythema at the injection site. Erythema resolves in 48-72 hours.


    Meningococcal C conjugate vaccines
    Side effects may include pain and tenderness at the injection site which resolves in 1 day and transient headache. Serious adverse effects are rare.


    Multicomponent meningococcal B vaccine
    Fever is the most common side effect in infants and young children especially when given concurrently with other vaccines. Prophylactic paracetamol is recommended with MenBV administration in children aged under 2 years of age.


    Other common side effects: Tenderness, swelling and erythema around injection site, irritability, sleepiness, change in eating habits, unusual crying, rash, vomiting and diarrhoea. The side effects are mild or moderate and transient.

  • Offer meningococcal ACWY vaccine to adolescents in states where it is not provided in schools. In states where vaccine is available in schools, GPs could offer the vaccine to adolescents not attending school e.g. those working or being home schooled


    Consider testing for invasive meningococcal disease in older patients who may have atypical presentations (septic arthritis and epiglottitis).12


    Be on the lookout with diagnosis and provide early management.

  • Click to download the Meningococcal disease GP Guide:

  • 1.Australian Government Department of Health. Invasive Meningococcal Disease National Surveillance Report with a focus on MenW 19 June 2017

    2.Australian Government Department of Health. Invasive meningococcal disease national surveillance report, with a focus on MenW. 9 January 2017. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Conte nt/ohp-meningococcal-W.htm (Accessed February 2017)

    3.Christensen H. et al. 2010. Meningococcal carriage by age: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infectious Diseases Dec 2010: 853-61

    4.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Meningococcal Disease Fact sheet April 2017

    5.Meningitis Research Foundation Symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia (Accessed 22nd August 2017)

    6.Martin NV, Ong KS, Howden BP, et al. Rise in invasive serogroup W meningococcal disease in Australia 2013– 2015. Communicable Diseases Intelligence 2016;40: E454-E9. 12

    7.Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th ed (2017 update) Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 2017

    8.Meningococcal vaccines for Australians/NCIRS Fact sheet: March 2017

    9.Department of Health National Immunisation Program last update 1st August 2018

    10.SA Health Meningococcal B Immunisation Program

    11.The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th ed part 4 (page last updated 1 August 2017). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health; 2015

    12.Australian Government Department of Health Meningococcal W Disease-Information for Health Professionals Date issued: 14 December 2016 (Accessed 28 September 2017)

Date published: 10 May 2017

Last updated: 6 August 2018

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