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What is it

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a bacterial infection that can cause serious illnesses including meningitis and septicemia body.1 Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord caused by a meningococcal infection.1 People may be carriers of the bacteria without knowing it; however, the bacteria pose a serious health risk when it becomes invasive or is passed onto children and others who are not immunized.1

Who is at risk

Many healthy individuals may carry the bacterium in their throat or nose and can pass it to others, without getting sick.2

Invasive meningococcal disease can cause death in up to 10% of infected people.2 In Canada, less than 1 person in every 100,000 gets the disease. Those who are at the highest risk of invasive meningococcal disease include:2

  • Children under 5 years old
  • People living in crowded living quarters
  • Adolescents 15 to 18 years old
  • Travellers to areas where the disease is common, including the sub-Saharan African meningitis belt
  • Individuals with specific genetic risk factors
  • Individuals experiencing a concurrent respiratory tract infection (such as influenza)
  • Smokers
  • Individuals with HIV infection

What are the symptoms

Symptoms typically develop 3 to 4 days after exposure to the bacterium and may take up to 10 days to appear. They include:3

  • Sudden fever
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Intense headache
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • A skin rash that begins as reddish/purplish spots that don’t disappear when pressed and spreads rapidly

How is it spread

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides when it invades the blood or meninges.4 When the bacteria invade the body it can cause serious illnesses including:4

  • Meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord
  • Septicemia, a dangerous blood infection

Different types of invasive meningococcal disease are found in different places.4 Historically, strains B and C caused the highest burden of disease in Canada, but data collected between 2006 and 2011 show that strains Y and B accounted for more cases than strain C.5

Invasive meningococcal disease is spread through close, direct contact such as:4

  • Living in crowded quarters
  • Coughing, sneezing, or kissing
  • Sharing of food or drinks
  • Sharing of toothbrushes, mouthguards, cigarettes or lipstick
  • Sharing of mouthed toys, or musical instruments with a mouthpiece

How is it prevented

The best way to prevent meningococcal disease is to ensure you and your children are vaccinated. The meningococcal vaccines protect you from five different strains of the bacterium that cause the deadly forms of the disease.6, 7, 8, 9

Provinces and territories typically vaccinate healthy infants against meningococcal type C meningitis at 12 months of age.6, 10 Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate that help protect against serogroups C, A, Y, and W-135 are also available in Canada.11

How is it treated

Invasive meningococcal disease is a medical emergency and requires immediate professional attention. Invasive meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics for 3 to 7 days.12 Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have been exposed to invasive meningococcal disease through:12

  • An infected household member
  • An infected contact at daycare
  • An infected nursery school contact or,
  • Oral secretions from someone who is infected


  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Invasive Meningococcal Disease. (2014)
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. Invasive Meningococcal Disease Risks. (2014)
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada. Invasive Meningococcal Disease Symptoms. (2014)
  4. Public Health Agency of Canada. Invasive Meningococcal Disease Causes. (2014)
  5. Public Health Agency of Canada. Canada Communicable Disease Report CCDR. Enhanced surveillance of invasive meningococcal disease in Canada, 2006-2011. CCDR: Volume 40-9, May 1, 2014.
  6. Public Health Agency of Canada. Invasive Meningococcal Disease Prevention. (2014)
  7. GlaxoSmithKline Bexsero Product Monograph. (2017)
  8. GlaxoSmithKline Menevo Product Monograph. (2017)
  9. Sanofi Pasteur Menactra Product Monograph. (2012)
  10. Pfizer NeisVac-C Product Monograph. (2015)
  11. Canadian Paediatric Society. Meningococcal vaccines in Canada: An update. (2011)
  12. Public Health Agency of Canada. Invasive Meningococcal Disease Treatment. (2014)