Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal is a rare but often life-threatening disease found in children under five, older adolescents and young adults.

Immunisation Coalition

About Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is a rare but often life-threatening disease caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (commonly known as 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.

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

Doctoring Little Mermaid (2015)

Watch the documentary 'Doctoring Little Mermaid'

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

Meningococcal Disease Symptoms

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 of red-purple pinpricks or bruises
  • headache
  • neck stiffness
  • photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • muscle aches
  • cold hands and feet
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • joint pain
  • nausea and vomiting

How Meningococcal Disease Spreads

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.

Meningococcal Disease Complications

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

Lachlan’s story (2024)

A parent’s perspective (2024)

Sumeyra’s story (2018)


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.

3 Meningococcal Australia The Facts 2014 Accessed 8 August 2017

Meningococcal Disease Prevention

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
  • adolescents between 14-19 years of age
  • those with aspen/hyposplenia, complement deficiency or on eculizumab treatment
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 12 months and for adolescents 15 – 19 years of age

Vaccine is also available as a private prescription for:

  • some travel destinations, occupations and medical conditions
  • anyone wanting to protect themselves or their family from these strains of meningococcal disease4,5 (available for anyone over 6 weeks 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  wanting to protect themselves or their family from this strain of meningococcal (available for anyone over 6 weeks of age*)

* 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 in a phased implementation in South Australia. From 1st July 2020, see here.

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

5 Meningococcal vaccines for Australians/NCIRS Fact sheet: 1 July 2020

Meningococcal Disease Treatment

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.

More Meningococcal Disease Information

Watch: Video featuring Professor Robert Booy