Infectious Diseases

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Meningococcal Disease

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What is invasive meningococcal disease (IMD)?

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. About 10% of the population have this bacteria at the back of their throat or nose and are healthy. It can cause meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or meningococcemia (an infection of the blood stream).

When the infection is this serious, we call it invasive Meningococcal disease.

How is IMD spread?

The bacteria are commonly found in the nose and throat of healthy people (carriers), so it is always in the community. When someone is sick with IMD, they can spread the germ before they are very sick. People are exposed to the bacteria by direct contact with saliva or nasal secretions. If you have done any activities where you have shared body fluids from the nose or throat with someone who is ill with this infection, such as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, open mouth kissing, sharing eating utensils, drinking glasses, water bottles, cigarettes or sharing of lipstick then you could be infected.

What symptoms should I watch for?

Signs and symptoms are similar to the flu symptoms but are much more rapid in onset and severity. Symptoms may include high fever, headache, stiff neck (unable to move up and down), nausea and vomiting, eyes may be sensitive to bright lights (photophobia), confusion, drowsiness. Sometimes a purplish skin rash will appear that is flat and smooth. It is important to see your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms. In young children, you may notice irritability, excessive crying, grunting, moaning or convulsions.

How do I know if I have IMD?

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease. If you develop symptoms there are different tests the doctor will use to test for Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. Sometimes your blood or cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) will be tested.

What is the treatment for IMD?

When someone is sick with IMD, they need prompt hospital care, treatment will include antibiotics. Someone who is infected with invasive meningoccal disease typically will no longer be contagious after 24 hours of starting an appropriate antibiotic.

How do I protect myself and others?

You can help stop the spread of IMD by washing your hands after coughing, sneezing, before preparing foods, before eating and after using the washroom. If you do cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your arm. Do not share cigarettes or drink from the same glass, water bottle or straw as others.

There are also vaccines that will provide protection against several strains of meningococci. Certain meningococcal vaccines are publicly funded for specific groups of individuals in the province of Ontario. The Men C vaccine remains available as part of the routine childhood immunizations through your family physician, adolescents 15-19 years of age, as well as some high risk individuals. If you have not received this vaccine and would like more information, you will need to talk to your health care provider. If you do not have a doctor, call the Vaccine Preventable Team at the health unit for more information

Is there anything special I need to know about IMD?

It is important to understand the disease is not easily spread, and try not to panic about getting this infection. Most people who come in contact with meningococcal disease NEVER get sick. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and when to seek medical attention. If your doctor says it’s the flu but the symptoms get more severe, let your doctor know. If you are caring for a child who is ill with a fever, ensure you check on them frequently and notify your doctor if symptoms get worse.

If you have had close contact with someone who has invasive meningococcal disease you will be contacted by public health. Close contacts are persons living in the same household, child care or nursery school, who may have shared saliva with the person who is infected. This could be through kissing, sharing toys, foods, drinks or cigarettes. Close contacts who are considered to be at increased risk (shared saliva) may be advised to take a specific antibiotic that will help to prevent them from developing the infection.

For data on the incidence of invasive Meningococcal disease in Simcoe Muskoka and Ontario, please visit the invasive Meningococcal disease page on the health unit’s HealthSTATS site

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