Meningitis updates

Neisseria meningitidis or meningococcus bacterium

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain), septicemia (blood infection), and other infections (joint, ear, etc.). This disease has a very rapid onset and people can become deathly ill in less than 24 hours. Death occurs in 10-40% of cases and other consequences are deafness, brain damage, and amputations.

Meningococcal vaccines

The vaccines that protect against meningococcal disease do not provide long-term immunity. The disease has such a short incubation period that circulating antibodies are required for protection. We cannot rely on immune memory as we can for diseases such as hepatitis A & B that have a long incubation period. Long incubation periods give the immune system time to produce protective antibodies. Meningococcal vaccines should be boosted every three to five years if the risk continues.

There are 5 sero-groups of the meningococcal bacteria that cause illness in North America: groups A, B, C, Y, and W-135.

Conjugate C Vaccine (Menjugate, Neisvac-C) – Free (for children in BC)

In Canada, during the 2000’s we had epidemics of group C disease. As a result, every child in B.C. is given free meningococcal conjugate group C vaccine at 2 months and 12 months.

Conjugate A, C, Y, W-135 Vaccine (Menactra, Menveo, Nimenrix)

As group C disease decreases due to vaccination, other groups, such as group Y have become more prominent. The vaccine is provided free to children in grade 9. The vaccine is also provided free to children and adults at high risk of meningococcal disease, including those who have:

  • No spleen or a spleen that is not working properly
  • Immune system disorders, including complement, properdin, factor D or primary antibody deficiencies
  • An islet cell or solid organ transplant, or those who are waiting for one
  • Had a stem cell transplant
  • Been in close contact with a person with meningococcal A, Y or W disease, or who are determined by public health to be at risk of infection with these during an outbreak in B.C.

People who are not eligible for the free vaccine but want to be protected against meningococcal A, C, Y and W strains of the disease can purchase the vaccine at most pharmacies and travel clinics.

Meningococcal Group B Vaccine (Bexsero)

Meningococcal group B accounts for between 1/3 to 2/3 of the cases of invasive meningococcal disease, depending on where you live. In BC, group B accounts for more than one-third of the cases of meningococcal disease. In Canada, 80% of cases occur in infants under 1 year. The high-risk groups for meningococcal group B disease are 0-1, 1-4 and 15-24 years of age. There have been outbreaks of this disease in U.S. universities. Group B meningococcal disease is different from A, C, Y, and W-135 in that 8000 strains of the group B organism can cause disease. It is felt that Bexsero will protect against at least 2/3 of the group B meningococcal strains that occur in Canada.

Two to three doses of vaccine are needed for protection depending on the age at which vaccination is started. When starting at 2 years or older, two doses are needed at least one month apart.

The meningococcal group B vaccine is highly recommended for infants between 0-1 years old as well as students attending universities.

This vaccine can be purchased at the travel clinic and at most pharmacies.

Contact the VCH Travel Clinic

Contact the VCH Travel Clinic at (604) 736-9244 if you are interested or have questions about meningitis vaccines.

If you are travelling, call us to book your appointment. We are fully staffed to get your assessment, prescriptions, and vaccinations covered all in one visit.