Toronto is seeing an increase in meningococcal disease. Anyone who has not received the vaccines, is strongly recommended to get one as soon as possible.


Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. It is very rare, however once infected, it can be very serious.

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 include:

  • 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 antibiotic treatment.

Symptoms typically start three to four days but you may start to have symptoms between two to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • A purplish rash on the skin that spreads quickly

Children with meningococcal disease may be more irritable or fussy than normal. Infants can have a high pitched cry, an arched back, difficulty waking, 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.

Anyone who has been in close direct contact with a person who has meningococcal disease is at risk.

Those most at risk of exposure include:

  • 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 include:

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

Keeping up to date with recommended vaccinations is the best protection against meningococcal 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. Meningococcal vaccines provide strong protection against specific strains 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 these vaccines.

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, Y, W-135).

People 18 to 38 years of age:

Toronto Public Health strongly advises adults between 18 to 38 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 to get the vaccine.

If you got the meningococcal vaccine when you were a baby or young child but did not get one when you were a teenager, it is recommended to get another vaccine dose. If you cannot find your vaccination history, you can safely get a meningococcal vaccine dose.

OHIP, health insurance or immigration status is not needed to get the vaccine. 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.

Meningococcal disease is diagnosed based on symptoms and laboratory tests including a blood test or testing of cerebrospinal fluid (fluid near the spinal cord). Treatment for meningococcal disease includes antibiotics which can prevent you from getting seriously sick and spreading the bacteria. Hospitalization may be needed for serious infections.

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

    For more information:

    • Talk to your health care provider or call Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600.
    • Call 811 to connect to a registered nurse day or night for free, secure and confidential health advice.
    • Scarborough Health Network’s VaxFacts Clinic
      • Book an appointment online  to speak to a doctor for accurate information about a variety of vaccines, including the meningococcal vaccine.