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Meningococcal meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis
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Should I worry about meningococcal meningitis?

The short answer is ‘yes, you should’! Meningococcal meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. Where it progresses to a systemic infection (septicaemia), about 5–10% of patients will die, often within 48 hours of infection. It can also result in permanent nerve or brain damage.

Get medical help immediately if you think you have a case of meningitis on your hands: don’t wait for the rash to appear, and do not wait until you get back home.

How is meningococcal meningitis transmitted?

The bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis are carried by 25% of healthy adolescents and 5–11% of healthy adults, mainly in the nasal passages. It is transmitted via respiratory droplets and secretions – so when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This can make it difficult to avoid, particularly during seasons when coughs and colds are common.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Meningitis has a range of symptoms, which include:

  • sudden fever
  • intense headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stiff neck
  • seizures
  • blood spots under the skin, which form a blotchy rash that does not fade when pressed with a glass
  • irritability in the presence of light
  • drowsiness and confusion

Meningitis is a medical emergency. Seek help if you suspect you or someone you are caring for has meningococcal meningitis.

The charity Meningitis Now has more information about signs and symptoms.

Which countries have a high incidence of meningitis?

There is a worldwide risk of meningococcal meningitis, but the meningitis belt of Sub-Saharan Africa has a higher risk and includes all or part of these countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and South Sudan.

If you are a Hajj or Umrah pilgrim travelling to Saudi Arabia, you will need to produce a certificate of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis to obtain a visa.Global Travel Clinics can administer the injection and provide you with a certificate. Ask about our pilgrimage package.

Am I at greater than normal risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis?

The following groups of travellers are at particular risk from meningococcal meningitis:

  • Anyone travelling to meningitis belt countries during the dry season (December–June), when the dusty winds and cold nights make respiratory infections more frequent.
  • Health workers, volunteers and those on trips longer than one month.
  • Those planning a home-stay (for example, if you are visiting friends or family and staying in their own homes).
  • Anyone planning to attend a mass gathering, such as a wedding, funeral or a festival.
How can I avoid meningococcal meningitis?

There is a vaccine available for meningococcal meningitis. Canadian teenagers may already be protected under the normal vaccine schedule, but you should check your health records if you are not sure. Ask a specialist travel nurse – such as those at Global Travel Clinics – for more advice.

You can also protect yourself with careful handwashing. Don’t share cups, toothbrushes, lip balm and the like. And avoid crowded spaces if at all possible.