Meningococcal disease is a caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. It is very rare, however once infected, the disease can progress very quickly and have serious consequences.

Normally, some people get the infection in their throat or nose without getting sick. In rare cases, the infection can cause serious illness and spread to others. It can lead to meningitis (a brain infection), septicemia (a blood infection), as well as complications like hearing loss, brain damage, loss of limbs and even death.

Meningococcal disease can affect people of any age. However, it is most common in children under five years old, teens and young adults who are not vaccinated against the disease.

There are many strains of meningococcal infection that can cause illness. Strains A, B, C, Y, W-135 have a vaccine to prevent infection. See a health care provider right away if you have any symptoms of meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal disease spreads through close, direct contact with saliva from the mouth or mucus from the nose of someone who has the disease.

Examples of how it spreads from someone who has meningococcal disease to others:

  • Kissing, coughing or sneezing
  • Sharing food, drinks, toothbrushes, mouth guards, cigarettes, e-liquid products, lipstick or other things that have been in the mouth of a person with the disease
  • Living in the same household as someone who has meningococcal disease

A person can spread meningococcal disease up to seven days before becoming sick and until 24 hours after starting the appropriate antibiotic.

The bacteria does not spread through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been.

Anyone who has been in close direct contact with a person who has meningococcal disease is at risk. See a healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms within 10 days of last being in close contact with a person who has meningococcal disease.

Those most at risk of exposure:

  • Children under five years of age
  • Teens between 15 and 18 years old
  • People living in crowded housing
  • People who have travelled to areas where the disease is more common

Those most at risk of severe meningococcal disease:

  • People who have not been vaccinated
  • People with underlying medical conditions
  • Smokers

Keeping up to date with recommended vaccinations is the best protection against meningococcal disease.

Symptoms may start between 2 to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria, but between 3 to 4 days is typical.

Symptoms include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A purplish rash on the skin that spreads quickly
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Seizures

In addition to these symptoms, children with meningococcal disease may be more irritable or fussy than normal. Infants can have a high pitched cry, an arched back, decreased appetite or difficulty feeding.

See a health care provider right away if you develop symptoms within 10 days of being in close contact with a person who has meningococcal disease.

Treatment for meningococcal disease includes antibiotics which can prevent you from getting seriously sick and spreading the bacteria. In some cases the meningococcal vaccine may be used as well. Antibiotics and vaccines, if required, are free for people who have meningococcal disease as well as their close contacts.

Toronto Public Health follows up and provides guidance to anyone who lives in Toronto that has meningococcal disease, as well as their close contacts.

There are many strains of meningococcal infection that can cause illness. Strains A, B, C, Y, W-135 have a vaccine to prevent infection. Meningococcal vaccines provide strong protection against specific types of meningococcal bacteria. You cannot get the disease from the vaccine because it does not contain live bacteria.

The vaccine is safe and effective. Common side effects include pain and redness where the vaccine was given, headache, as well as feeling tired or unwell for a short time after getting the vaccine.

In rare cases, serious allergic reactions such as trouble breathing, rash, as well as swelling in the throat and face may occur. Allergic reactions can be treated and are usually temporary. There are no long-term side effects from this vaccine.

A vaccine will be recommended, and available for free, if you are a close contact of someone who had severe meningococcal illness caused by one of the vaccine preventable types (A, B, C, W, Y).

People 20 to 36 years of age:

On August 25, 2022, Toronto Public Health announced three cases of invasive bacterial meningococcal disease in Toronto among people between 20 and 30 years old. Due to this outbreak, Toronto Public Health strongly advises adults between 20 to 36 years of age who have not received a dose of meningococcal vaccine to get this free vaccine as soon as possible. Contact a health care provider.

If you got the meningococcal vaccine when you were a baby or young child but did not get one when you were a teenager, Toronto Public Health recommends getting another vaccine dose. If you cannot find your vaccination history then get the vaccine just in case – it is safe to do so.

The vaccine is free – even if you don’t have OHIP, health insurance or immigration status. A piece of ID is needed to confirm your age. You can get the meningococcal vaccine at the same time as other vaccines, such as flu or COVID-19 vaccines.

Watch TPH public health nurses tell you more about meningococcal disease and how you can protect yourself by getting vaccinated.


Download the presentation or a transcript of this video.

Health Connect Ontario

  • Call 811 or visit online.
  • This free service connects you to a registered nurse day or night for confidential health advice. You can check your symptoms, as well as get health recommendations and referrals. OHIP is not required.

Scarborough Health Network’s VaxFacts Clinic

  • Book an appointment online or call 416-438-2911 ext. 5738
  • Provides one-on-one consultation with a doctor for accurate information about a variety of vaccines, including the meningococcal vaccine. This service is available by appointment for residents across Canada.

Toronto Public Health

  • Call 416-338-7600 (TTY: 416-392-0658) or email
  • Open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday
  • Interpretation is available in many languages.