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.
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:
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:
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:
Meningococcal B vaccine is available on private prescription for:
* 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.
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.
From 2002 to 2015 the predominant meningococcal serogroup in Australia was serogroup B. However, the incidence of serogroup B has declined in the absence of any significant vaccine use.
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, MenW (37%) and Men B (36%) emerged as predominant strains. In 2017, Men W notifications dramatically increased to 141 and MenB notifications to 137.2
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). In 2017, MenC notifications increased to 14.2
There has been an increase in serogroup Y disease from 12 cases in 2014 to 41 cases in 2016 to 75 cases in 2017.2
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 2016.3
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.4
See references 5,6
|Fever and/or vomiting||
|Limb joint muscle pain||
|Cold hands and feet/chills||
|Pale or mottled skin||
|Dislike of bright lights||
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.7
See reference 8
Individuals at greater risk of meningococcal infection:
Three types of meningococcal disease vaccines are available in Australia:
– a single vaccine (NeisVac-C)
– a combination with Haemophilus type B (Menitorix)
See reference 9,10
Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccines (4vMenCV for serogroups A, C, W and Y)
|Trade Name/Age available||Formulation||Who should be vaccinated?|
|Menactra (from 9 months 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.
Funded on NIP at 12 months of age.11
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 9 months13 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. ATAGI recommends that it can be given to children as young as 6 weeks.13 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 ATAGI recommends Menvio can be given to infants as young as 6 weeks of age.13
States/Territories offering funded quadrivalent (A, C, W and Y) meningococcal disease vaccine to adolescents from 1st July 20189
ACT: Students in Year 10 with catch up for 16-19 year olds
NSW: Students in Years 10-11 with catch up for 15-19 year olds
Victoria, WA, Queensland: Students in Year 10 with catch up for adolescents up to 19 years of age
TAS: Free to anyone over 6 weeks born after 1st August 199712
NT: People aged 1 to 19
SA: People aged 1 to 19 in Central Australia ends September 2018
Vaccine is available in other states/territories on private prescription.
Nimenrix available on NIP for 14-19 year-olds commencing April 2019.
Benefits of vaccinating adolescents:
Dose schedule recommendations using MenACWY vaccines13
|Age at start of vaccine course||Men ACWY||Healthy individuals including Indigenous Australians, travellers and laboratory personnel||With any specified medical conditions associated with increased risk of meningococcal disease|
|6 weeks- 5 months||Menveo*
(8 weeks between 1st and 2nddoses; 3rddose at 12 months of age)
(8 weeks between doses; 4thdose at 12 months of age or 8 weeks after 3rd dose, whichever is later)
(2nd dose at 12 months
(8 weeks between each dose)
(2nd dose at 12 months of age or 8 weeks after 1st dose, whichever is later)
(8 weeks between 1stand 2nd doses; 3rd dose at 12 months of age or 8 weeks after 2nd dose, whichever is later)
(8 weeks between doses)2 doses
(8 weeks between doses)1 dose
(8 weeks between doses)
|≥ 2 years**||Menveo
|1 dose||2 doses
(8 weeks between doses)
|Booster doses for all ages||Any brand||Required every 5 years only for travellers and laboratory personnel facing ongoing risks||For those with ongoing increased risk for IMD who completed the primary series at:
i) ≤ 6 years of age: 3 years after completion of primary immunisation schedule, then every 5 years thereafterii) ≥ 7 years of age: every 5 years after completion of the primary immunisation schedule
*The product information for Menveo states that infants aged 2-6 months should receive 3 primary doses and a booster dose at age 12 months. However, ATAGI recommends that infants aged 6 weeks- 5 months should receive 2 primary doses (8 weeks apart) and a booster dose at age 12 months. ATAGI also recommends that infants aged 6 months should receive 1 primary dose and a booster dose at age 12 months
**Menveo and Nimenrix are preferred for children ≥ 2 years. If unavailable, use menactra.
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
Co-Administering with 13vPCV
Menveo and Nimenrix can be co-administered with 13vPCV. Do not co-administer Menactra with 13vPCV. Ideally 13vPCV should be given first followed by Menactra, with a minimum interval of 4 weeks between the dose of 13vPCV and Menactra.
Meningococcal C conjugate vaccines (MenCCV for serogroup C)
|Trade Name||Formulation||Who should be vaccinated?|
|NeisVacC||Men C conjugate vaccine||
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 months11
Catch up vaccine for children 10-19 years of age
Availabilty: Monevalent MenC vaccine available on the NIP for those requiring catch up of the 12-month childhood dose (when they are not eligible to receive MenACWY vaccine)13
|Menitorix||Hib-MenC conjugate combination vaccine|
Meningococcal B vaccine (MenBV for serogroup B)
|Trade Name||Formulation||Who should be vaccinated?|
Bexsero for childhood program
Bexsero/Trumenba for school immunisation program and under 21 catch up program
|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 for14:
* 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.15
Dose schedule recommendations using Men B vaccines13
|Age at start of vaccine course
|Number of primary doses||Intervals between doses||Booster|
|6 weeks-5 months
|3||8 weeks between doses||4th dose (booster) at 12 months|
|2||8 weeks between doses||3rd dose (booster) at 12 months|
|12 months-9 years
|≥ 10 years
≥ 10 years
2 or 3
6 months for 2 doses
For those with specified medical conditions, 3 doses are required (at least 4 weeks between 1st and 2nd doses; 3rd dose at least 6 months after 2nddose and at least 6 months after 1stdose
*Bexsero and Trumenba are not interchangeable. The same vaccine should be used to complete vaccination course.
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).16
Be on the lookout with diagnosis and provide early management.
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 – January 2018
3.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)
4.Christensen H. et al. 2010. Meningococcal carriage by age: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infectious Diseases Dec 2010: 853-61
5.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Meningococcal Disease Fact sheet April 2017
6.Meningitis Research Foundation Symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia (Accessed 22nd August 2017)
7.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
8.Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th ed (2017 update) Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 2017
9.Department of Health, Vic, Tas, NSW, ACT, SA, NT, WA
10.Meningococcal vaccines for Australians/NCIRS Fact sheet: March 2017
11.Department of Health National Immunisation Program last update 1st August 2018
12.Department of Health Tasmania
13.Meningococcal vaccines for Australians/NCIRS Fact sheet: August 2018
14.SA Health Meningococcal B Immunisation Program
15.The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th ed part 4 (page last updated 1 August 2017). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health; 2015
16.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: 8 October 2018