The Disease: Meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia are serious infections caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Humans are the only known reservoir for Neisseria meningitidis.

  • Meningitis: inflammation of the meninges (lining of the brain)
  • Septicaemia: bacteria enters the bloodstream resulting in blood poisoning

Neisseria meningitidis is commonly found in the back of the throat or nose and will only occasionally cause disease. It is unknown why some individuals carry the bacteria without them causing harm while others go on to develop meningococcal disease.

Approximately 10% of the population will carry Neisseria meningitidis, with the highest carriage (around 25%) in 15-19 year olds. Infection is not easily spread. It is transmitted from person to person by inhaling respiratory secretions from the mouth and throat or by direct contact (kissing). Close prolonged contact is usually required to transmit the bacteria. They do not live long outside the body.

Early signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease may be non-specific and therefore difficult to distinguish from influenza or other diseases. Early symptoms include fever, vomiting, malaise and lethargy.