Last updated: August 25, 2022 at 3:30 p.m.

Toronto Public Health is investigating a confirmed outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease. Residents 20 to 36 years of age are advised to check their immunization record to confirm they have received a dose of meningococcal vaccine. If not, please contact your healthcare provider.

 

Meningococcal disease is a rare infectious disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Normally, some people carry this bacteria in their throat or nose without getting sick. In rare instances, this bacteria can cause serious disease and may also infect others. It can lead to an infection of the brain, spinal cord and blood.

Meningococcal disease can affect people of any age, although it is most common in teenagers and infants less than one year of age.

If you have any symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away.

Meningococcal disease spreads through close, direct contact such as:

  • Living in close quarters
  • Kissing, coughing or sneezing
  • Sharing food or drinks
  • Sharing toothbrushes, mouthguards, cigarettes, lipstick
  • Sharing toys, musical instruments or other things that have been in the mouth of a person with the disease

People do not catch the bacteria through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been. A person is able to spread meningococcal disease up to seven days before becoming ill and until 24 hours after starting the appropriate antibiotic.

Meningococcal disease is rare, however, anyone who has been in close direct contact with a person who has meningococcal disease is at risk. Those most at risk are:

  • Children under 5 years old
  • People living in crowded living quarters
  • Adolescents 15 to 18 years old
  • Travelers to areas where the disease is more common, such as sub-Saharan Africa
  • Those experiencing another respiratory tract infection (such as influenza)
  • Smokers
  • Those with HIV infection

School classmates or co-workers and healthcare workers who have not been in direct close contact are not at increased risk and do not need preventive antibiotics.

For the general population, no special measures need to be taken to prevent infection. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccinations is the best protection against meningococcal disease.

People who are sick with this disease may have several of the following symptoms. Symptoms may happen between two to 10 days after exposure, typically between 3-4 days. They include:

  • Sudden onset of high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rash (purplish) that spreads quickly
  • Seizures
  • Irritability or fussiness

Infants can have a high pitched cry, an arched back, decreased appetite or difficulty feeding.

Severe cases can result in hallucination, coma and, if untreated can lead to death.

Vaccines can protect against specific types of meningococcal bacteria. The vaccines cannot cause meningococcal disease because it contains no live bacteria.

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

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

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

Vaccine Eligibility

Eligible students who live or study in Toronto may receive publicly funded meningococcal vaccine through:

Currently, Toronto Public Health recommends people 20 to 36 years of age who have not received a dose of meningococcal vaccine should contact their health care provider to book an appointment to receive this publicly funded vaccine.

For more information about routine vaccinations or the meningococcal vaccines, speak to your healthcare provider or call Toronto Public Health’s Health Connections: 416-338-7600.

If you have been exposed to meningococcal disease, call your healthcare provider right away to see if you need antibiotics to prevent you from getting sick and spreading the bacteria. In some cases, a vaccine may be used in addition to the preventive antibiotic.

Toronto Public Health will follow up with known close contacts to recommend vaccination and educate about sign and symptoms. If appropriate, arrangements to get vaccinated will be provided, at no cost.

If you have any symptoms of the disease within 10 days of last seeing a person with meningococcal disease, see your healthcare provider right away. You may be treated with antibiotics and supportive medical care.