What is meningococcal disease
Meningococcal is caused by bacteria from the nose or throat invading the body. The bacteria can infect the lining around the brain and spinal cord, or cause blood poisoning.
Who's at risk
You can get meningococcal at any age but people most at risk include::
- infants, small children, adolescents, and young adults
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 2 months to 19 years
- people exposed to cigarette smoke
- people going to countries with a high rate of the disease
- people with a weak immune system
- people who haven't been vaccinated.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms in babies
- Cold hands and feet
- Refusal to feed
- High pitched crying or whimpering
- Dislike of being handled, fretful
- A rash of red-purple spots or bruises that don't fade under pressure
- Blank and staring expression
- Bulging fontanelle, the soft spot of a newborn's skull
- Difficult to wake and lethargic
- Pale and blotchy complexion
Symptoms in older children and adults
- Stiff neck
- Dislike of bright lights
- Joint pain
- A rash of red-purple spots or bruises that don't fade under pressure.
Don't wait to see a rash before getting medical help. Sometimes people don't get a rash or it appears later.
How it spreads
It's not easy to catch meningococcal and the bacteria doesn't survive well outside your body.
If you have the bacteria, you can pass it to someone else through secretions in the back of your nose and throat. You would need to have close and prolonged contact with that person. You may not know you're carrying the bacteria and feel completely well.
An example of close and prolonged contact is living in the same house or intimate (deep) kissing.
The bacteria isn't easily spread by sharing drinks, food or smokes.
If you do smoke, you have a higher chance of carrying the bacteria and spreading it to others. It's important not to smoke around young children and anyone else who has a higher risk of getting the disease.
If someone around you gets infected
If you're living with someone or you're a close contact of someone who gets infected, the public health authorities will let you know.
They may prescribe a short course of antibiotics or tell you to get vaccinated.
These don't always stop you from getting infected, so you need to watch for any symptoms for 2 weeks after being with the infected person.
You can still go to work, school and childcare whether or not you've had antibiotics or been vaccinated.
Prevention and vaccination
You can get vaccinated against meningococcal strains A, B, C, W and Y. These don't protect against all strains of the disease, so you still need to watch out for the symptoms and signs.
Meningococcal ACWY vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program for:
- children aged 12 months
- people aged 15 to 19 years
- people with medical conditions that increase their risk of invasive meningococcal disease.
You can get vaccinated by your GP or other vaccine service provider. Year 10 students can get vaccinated through the School Immunisation Program.
Meningococcal B vaccine is free for:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 2, 4 and 12 months, also at 6 months if they have medical risk factors for invasive meningococcal disease
- People with medical risk factors for invasive meningococcal disease.
Read more about medical conditions and risk factors for meningococcal on the Department of Health and Aged Care website.
All other Australians can also get vaccinated against meningococcal B, however this isn’t free unless you’re eligible.
Beginning in early 2024, the Queensland MenB Vaccination Program will provide free meningococcal B vaccines to eligible Queensland infants, children and adolescents. Find out more about the Queensland MenB Vaccination Program.
Read more about when you should get vaccinated.
If you get meningococcal, you'll usually need to go to hospital. Early treatment, including antibiotics can sometimes prevent serious complications.
Where to get vaccinated
Getting vaccinated is easy. You can get most vaccines from your GP or other vaccine service provider. Find out where to get vaccinated.
When to get help
If you or someone around you have any symptoms, get urgent medical help.
Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if you're worried about your symptoms.
If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or see your doctor.
Find out more
For more information about vaccination, contact your health provider or call 13 HEALTH(13 43 25 84) .
Information in your language
You can find information about vaccination in your language on the Queensland Government website.