Meningococcal disease is caused by meningococcal bacteria. These bacteria can cause septicaemia (blood poisoning) and meningitis (inflammation of the meninges). There are five main meningococcal strains: Men A, B, C, W and Y. Meningococcal B (MenB) occurs most commonly in children under five. A large number of people carry the bacteria temporarily in their nose or throat without becoming ill. Coughing or sneezing releases the bacteria into the air where it can be inhaled by others. This is particularly risky in crowded, enclosed spaces and in close contact with members of the local population in countries where meningitis is common.

Symptoms of meningitis

Only a small number of people get ill and develop meningitis; young children and people who are significantly immuno-compromised are most at risk.

Initial symptoms of a meningococcal infection are:

  • cold symptoms
  • drowsiness
  • fever
  • stiff neck
  • vomiting
  • very sleepy, unresponsive
  • local signs of internal bleeding that cannot be pushed aside

The time between infection and the appearance of the first symptoms is short, between two and ten days.

Treating meningitis

An infection caused by a virus usually heals by itself in one to two weeks, during which time it is important you rest. A bacterial infection is treated in hospital using high doses of antibiotics administered intravenously.

How can you avoid meningococcus?

People carrying the meningococcal bacteria can pass it on to others, even if the carrier is not ill themselves. This is why it is always important to observe good hygiene around coughing and sneezing. Use paper handkerchiefs or tissues and wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.

Effective vaccines are available against meningococcal disease. At our Travel Clinic, you can pay to be vaccinated against four meningococcal strains (MenA, MenC, MenW, MenY). The vaccines provide protection for 10 years. However, if you are travelling to Mecca for the Hajj or Umrah, the time since your last vaccination must not be more than five years.

Check your health insurance policy to find out whether the vaccination for you or your child is reimbursed by your health insurance company.

Vaccination against meningococcal disease (MenA, MenC, MenW, MenY) is offered to children between the ages of 14 months and 14 years as part of the National Immunisation Programme in the Netherlands.

On 19 December 2018, the Health Council of the Netherlands advised against including the MenB vaccination in the National Immunisation Programme, due to insufficient information being available about its efficacy and how cost effective it would be as part of the National Immunisation Programme. It can also cause high fevers in infants. The MenB vaccine is therefore not yet included in our Travel Clinics’ assortment.