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The meningococcus is a bacterium (germ) that can cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood infection). These infections are very serious and can be fatal if not treated quickly. There are different groups (strains or types) of meningococcal bacteria:
There are two types of vaccine against meningococcal infection:
The vaccines stimulate your body to make antibodies against the meningococcal bacteria. These antibodies protect you from illness should you become infected with the bacteria.
Older children, teenagers, and young adults under the age of 25 were offered immunisation in a ‘catch up’ programme after the immunisation was first introduced in 1999. Most are now immunised. However, if you are under the age of 25 and have not been immunised – see your doctor or practice nurse to get immunised. Just one injection of vaccine is needed if you are over the age of one year. Once all people under the age of 25 are immunised with MenC, only the routine immunisations for new babies will need to continue.
You should be immunised with the ACWY vax vaccine if you intend to travel to areas where meningococcal infection is a risk. This includes areas of sub-Saharan Africa (particularly in the dry season), and areas of Saudi Arabia. Your doctor or practice nurse can advise if you should have this immunisation for your travel destination.
The ACWY vax vaccine is thought to provide good protection within a week or so of the injection. However, ideally you should be immunised at least two weeks before travel. Protection is thought to last about five years. If needed, a booster is recommended after five years.
Immunity after the ACWY vax vaccine does not last as long in children under five years old. Children between three months and two years of age need to have two vaccines with ACWY vax vaccine three months apart. Children who were under five years when they were first immunised should be given a booster dose after 2–3 years if they still remain at high risk.
Pilgrims to Saudi Arabia are especially at risk of contracting meningococcal infection. There have been outbreaks in recent years. A proof of immunisation is needed to obtain a visa to go to Saudi Arabia for this purpose.
Note: some pilgrims may have been immunised in the past with an older vaccine which only protected against groups A and C. If you travel to Saudi Arabia again you should have an injection of the newer ACWY vax vaccine. Proof of immunisation with ACWY vax vaccine given within the last two years is now needed to get a new visa to visit Saudi Arabia.
Close contacts of a person with meningococcal infection may be offered immunisation. The vaccine used depends on the meningococcal group causing the illness. (Close contacts may also be advised to take antibiotics for a few days.)
Pain and redness at the site of injection occur in about 1 in 10 people and lasts 1-2 days before subsiding. A mild fever sometimes occurs. This is more common in young children but it soon goes. Severe reactions are extremely rare.
The vaccine is safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Yes. Other groups of meningococcus and other types of bacteria can still cause meningitis. Get medical help immediately if you suspect that you, your child, or someone you know, has meningitis or septicaemia. The earlier the treatment of meningitis or septicaemia, the better the chance of recovery and preventing complications or death. See separate leaflets called ‘Meningitis and Septicaemia’ and ‘Meningitis – Symptom Check List’ for more detail.