Meningococcal Disease (Neisseria meningitides)

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria Meningitidis. This disease is often spread from someone who is infected to others through the air  from coughing or sneezing. It can also spread through direct contact with someone who is infected through kissing or sharing personal items such as water bottles or musical instruments. People infected  can develop serious and sometimes life-threatening infections, such as meningitis (infection of the brain lining and spinal cord) and septicemia (infection of the blood). Even with prompt medical treatment, meningococcal infections are fatal in 10% of those infected. Of those who survive the disease, 20%can suffer from permanent brain damage, loss of limbs (arms, legs or digits) and/or neurologic disabilities including hearing loss, seizures, paralysis and developmental delays.

Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningococcal Disease is a global awareness project, sponsored by GSK.

The project uses thought-provoking and inspiring photographs captured by world-renowned photographer and children's advocate, Anne Geddes. This image is of a young boy named Harvey who contracted meningococcal disease when he was just 2 years old. After months in hospital, he lost both his legs and all the fingers on his right hand to this aggressive disease.

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Symptoms

Many people with meningococcal disease do not have any symptoms and do not become sick but can still spread the disease to others. When symptoms appear, they include a characteristic rash, high fever, bad headache, upset stomach, weakness, drowsiness and stiff neck. For some people, bright light hurts their eyes, and they may feel confused and very tired. In  severe cases, coma (i.e. loss of consciousness) can also occur. The disease can progress very rapidly, causing shock (low blood pressure) and damage to many organs in the body. Death from shock can occur within 6-12 hours after the first sign of illness.

Causes

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis. The disease is spread most often through a person who is carrying the bacteria without knowing.  The bacteria lives on the lining of the nose or throat but the person does not develop symptoms of the disease; they can still spread the disease to others when coughing and sneezing. A person may remain a carrier for weeks or months. Sometimes, the bacteria can overcome the body's defenses and cause illness. The disease can also be passed by kissing or sharing items such as cigarettes, lipstick, musical instruments, water bottles, food/drinks and other items that have been in the mouth of a person with meningococcal disease.

Treatment

There are antibiotics available to treat meningococcal disease. Depending on the severity of the infection, other treatments may be required, including breathing support and wound care for damaged skin. It is vital to start treatment as soon as possible. Even with prompt medical treatment, damage resulting from the infection prior to treatment cannot be reversed.

Prevention

Meningococcal disease caused by some of the strains circulating in Canada  can be prevented through immunization. Manitoba offers protection against meningococcal disease through Manitoba’s Recommended Routine Immunization Schedule at 12 months of age against the C-strain and in grade 6 as part of the school immunization program against strains A, C, Y, and W-135. Immunizations against meningococcal disease are also offered free-of-charge to those with certain high-risk medical conditions. Please refer to Manitoba’s Eligibility Criteria for Publicly Funded Immunizations at www.manitoba.ca/health/publichealth/cdc/vaccineeligibility.html for a listing of the high-risk medical conditions covered as part of the meningococcal immunization program. Other precautions can be taken, including practicing good hand hygiene, covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze and avoiding sharing of personal items such as water bottles, lipstick and cigarettes.

It is important to see your doctor if you become ill after coming into contact with someone diagnosed with a meningococcal infection. Individuals who have meningococcal infection will be asked for a list of their contacts who will be offered an antibiotic to prevent them from becoming ill.

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