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 What is Meningitis?

Meningococcal infection is a serious and life-threatening infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by meningococcal bacteria. The first symptoms are flu-like and will worsen within 24-48 hours to stiff neck, high fever, confusion, headaches and vomiting.  Although most people recover, 1 in 10 people who get the infection will die; death can occur within 48 hours of symptoms appearing. The infection is spread from one person to person through coughing, sneezing or close face-to-face contact. It can also be spread through saliva or spit when people share items like food and drinks.

Where is it found?

Meningitis is found worldwide.  It is most common in the African Meningitis belt or Saharan Africa (*see map), however outbreaks can occur anywhere in the world; at any time 5-10% of the population could be carriers.

Who is at risk?

Meningitis is spread the same way as the common cold.  Young children are at the highest risk for meningococcal disease, however 60% of cases occur in adolescents and adults.

11-19% of survivors will suffer from permanent disabilities.

How to protect yourself:

In Canada there are 5 dominant strains that cause meningitis.  All 5 of the strains are vaccine-preventable.

The vaccine Menactra protects people ages 9 months-55 against 4 strains (A,C, Y, W-135 ) of the meningococcal disease.

Bexsero is now available in Canada and protects again meningococcal serogroup B.

For Travellers…

Meningitis vaccination for strains A,C, Y, W-135  are recommended for travelers who will be working or having close contact with local residents in areas where epidemics are common. These areas may change, but commonly include parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Vaccination is required for travellers to Mecca (for the annual “Hajj”), ten days prior to entry into Saudi Arabia.

For Travel to the Hajj or Umrah:
Vaccination Program (large download, make take a moment)

Ministry of Health Saudi Arabia: Health Regulations

Who else should consider getting vaccinated for meningitis?

  • Travellers to high risk areas 
  • All college students, especially those attending US universities
  • Patients with a suppressed immune system
  • Patients who have had their spleen removed

You should be vaccinated at least 2 weeks before your departure date.




For further information, please click Travel Health.



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