Meningococcal diseases are caused by a germ (a kind of bacteria) called meningococcus. This germ can cause two serious diseases:
- meningitis, an infection of the fluid and lining that cover the brain and spinal cord, and
- septicemia, a serious blood infection.
You can protect your child from these diseases with a vaccine. There are two kinds available in Canada. Each vaccine provides different protection:
- Meningococcal C vaccine (MCV-C) is best for babies and young children. It protects against type C of the meningococcus germ, a common cause of meningococcal infections in Canada.
- MCV-4 is a “quadrivalent” vaccine. It helps protect children 2 years and older against all 4 preventable types of the meningococcal germ. This vaccine is usually only given to children at higher risk of getting meningococcal infections, or teenagers. Not all provincial or territorial health plans pay for it.
Your doctor will know which vaccine is best, whether your child should get both, and at what age.
How common are meningococcal disease?
- In Canada, about 1 person in every 100,000 gets the disease.
- The germ-groups causing most meningococcal infections in Canada are B and C. Others are with A, W-135, and Y.
- Group C can cause outbreaks among teenagers 15 to 19 years of age. Outbreaks usually happen in one or two schools in an area and cause less than 5 cases.
How serious are these diseases?
- Without treatment, all children who get meningitis will die or suffer damage that lasts the rest of their lives. Even with treatment, about 1 in 20 children will die.
- About 1 in 20 children who survive meningitis will have brain damage.
- Septicemia can kill very quickly. Even with treatment, about 1 in 4 children with meningococcal septicemia will die or have permanent damage.
How do meningococcal diseases spread?
The germs that cause meningococcal diseases are spread mostly by who have the germs living in their nose and throat. This can happen:
- When people are in close, direct contact with each other, such as living in the same house.
- Through saliva, when people share food or drinks from a cup or can, water bottles, drinking straws, toothbrushes, mouthed toys, mouthguards, or musical instruments with a mouthpiece.
A doctor will often give antibiotics to family members or others who come into close contact with someone who has meningococcal disease. This helps stop the germs from spreading.
How can you tell if your child has meningococcal meningitis?
- Early signs may be fever, drowsiness, reduced consciousness (your child doesn’t seem awake), irritability, fussiness (crying) and/or agitation.
- Other symptoms include: severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck, pain when moving the head or neck, aches and pains, joint pain, and convulsions (seizures).
- Some children with meningococcal meningitis have a skin rash made up of red spots that don’t disappear when pressed. The spots can get quite large over a short period of time.
How can you tell if your child has meningococcal septicemia?
- Early signs are fever, aches and pains, joint pain and headache.
- Children with this disease get sick within a few hours. They become drowsy, semi-conscious, irritable or agitated.
- Almost all children with septicemia have a skin rash that starts as red spots that can happen on any part of the body. The spots increase in size and number in just a few hours.
- The disease can move very quickly. Complications include low blood pressure (shock), coma, convulsions (seizures), and difficulty breathing.
When should my child get the vaccine?
- Your child should be immunized with MCV-C at 12 months of age. Your child may also get an earlier dose, started anytime between 2 and 12 months of age and depending on your province or territory’s immunization program.
- Children at higher risk for meningococcal infection (children with no spleen or who have certain medical conditions) should receive MCV-C at 2, 4 and 12 months of age and MCV-4 at 2 years of age. If in doubt, talk to your doctor.
- Adolescents should get a booster dose of MCV-4 or MCV-C at about 12 years of age, even if they got a dose as an infant (although not all provinces or territories will pay for this).
How safe is the vaccine?
- Both vaccines are very safe.
- They often cause redness, swelling or pain for a short time at the place where you get the needle.
Who should not get the vaccine?
- People who have had a bad allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine should not get it again.
Where and when can I get the vaccine?
Talk to your doctor or local public health clinic to find out where and when your child should get vaccinated.
- The cost of MCV-C is covered everywhere in Canada.
- Many provinces currently cover the cost of MCV-4 vaccine.
Reviewed by the following CPS Committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last updated: April 2012