Skip to main content

Share this page

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease can cause inflammation around the brain (meningitis) and blood poisoning (bacteria in the blood, also called septicaemia). The germs usually live harmlessly in the mucus found in a person’s nose and throat. They spread between people when they cough or kiss. Rarely, they make their way into the body and cause meningococcal disease, which can be fatal. Children who survive can have brain damage or other long-term problems, like severe scars, deafness or amputations.1

What will happen to my child if they catch meningococcal disease?

Usual symptoms

  • People with meningococcal disease get a sudden fever (high temperature), a headache, stiff neck, eyes that hurt in the light, altered consciousness (confusion or drowsiness), muscle aches, cold hands, thirst, joint pain, nausea and vomiting. 
  • People with meningococcal disease often, but not always, have a red or purple rash that can look like bruises, broken blood vessels or lace, and doesn’t fade when you press the side of a glass on it.
  • There are several types of meningococcal disease. The most common are meningitis (infection of the brain lining) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). These are also the most serious.
  • Meningococcal disease can also affect the lungs (pneumonia), joints (arthritis) and eyes (conjunctivitis, also called pink-eye).
  • Many people carry meningococcal bacteria (germs) at the back of their noses and throats without knowing it. It doesn’t make them sick, but they can spread it to other people.

Less common symptoms

  • Between 10 and 30 per cent of those who survive meningococcal meningitis or septicaemia have fingers, toes, arms or legs amputated (cut off) or are permanently deaf or brain damaged.
  • Between 5 and 10 per cent of people who get meningococcal meningitis or septicaemia die, even though they are given antibiotics.
What vaccine will protect my child against meningococcal disease?

In Australia, children receive a vaccine (4vMenCV) that strengthens immunity to four strains (A, C, W, and Y) of the bacteria that causes meningococcal disease.

When should my child be vaccinated?

It is recommended that children get a vaccine that protects against meningococcal disease at 12 months.

It is also recommended that adolescents are vaccinated in high school, around 14-16 years of age (around Year 10, or equivalent).

It is important that children get all their vaccinations on time to ensure they have the  best possible protection against infectious diseases.

Will my child catch meningococcal disease from the vaccine?

No, there is no risk that your child will catch meningococcal disease because the vaccine does not contain the live bacteria that causes the disease. Instead, it contains  proteins from the bacteria that causes meningococcal disease, and which can be used to train your child’s immune system to recognise and fight the infection.

What are the common reactions to the vaccine?
  • About 10 per cent of children who get a vaccine that protects against meningococcal experience local swelling, redness or pain at the injection site that lasts one or two days. 
  • About 10 per cent develop a mild fever or headache.
  • About 10 per cent are irritable and lose their appetite for a short time.

If your child doesn’t seem to be getting better, or you are worried about them, you can get help from:

  • your doctor
  • your nearest emergency department
  • or by calling Health Direct on 1800 022 222.
Are there any rare and/or serious side effects to the vaccine?

There are no known rare and/or serious side effects to the vaccine.

What impact has vaccination had on the prevalence of meningococcal disease?

The introduction of the meningococcal C vaccine in 2003 has significantly reduced the rates of meningococcal C disease in Australia. The additional three meningococcal strains in the quadrivalent meningococcal (MenACWY) vaccine, widely used since 2017, has substantially reduced meningococcal W and Y disease.2,3,4 

Graph: How vaccination has impacted the prevalence of meningococcal disease