Meningococcal meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord caused by meningococcal bacteria. There is a meningitis vaccine suitable for travellers.

Meningococcal meningitis is very dangerous. If the infection of the meninges advances to a systemic illness (septicaemia), approximately 5-10% of individuals may die, often within 48 hours after infection. It can also cause long-term nerve or brain damage.

If you suspect you have meningitis, seek medical attention right away: don’t wait for the rash to show, and don’t wait until you return to the UK.

How is meningococcal meningitis spread?

Meningococcal meningitis germs are carried by 25% of healthy teenagers and 5-11% of healthy adults, primarily in the nasal passages. It spreads through respiratory droplets and secretions sneezed or coughed out by an infected person. This might make it difficult to avoid exposure to meningococcal meningitis, especially during the cold and flu season.

What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious medical condition. Seek medical attention if you fear you or someone you care about has meningococcal meningitis.

The most famous meningitis symptom is a blotchy rash that does not dissipate when pressed with a glass. This is caused by blood spots under the skin. It occurs quite late in the illness, and you should not wait for a rash if you are concerned about meningitis.

Meningitis causes a variety of symptoms that affect the whole body. They include fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting, severe headaches, seizures and a stiff neck. Patients may also dislike light and seem confused and drowsy.

More information regarding signs and symptoms is available from the Meningitis Now charity.

Which countries have the highest rate of meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is a worldwide risk, but the Sub-Saharan African meningitis belt has a higher risk and includes all or part of the following countries:

  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Kenya
  • Mali
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • the Gambia
  • Uganda

Do I need to get the meningitis vaccine for Hajj or Umrah?

If you are a Hajj or Umrah pilgrim travelling to Saudi Arabia, you must show proof of immunisation against meningococcal meningitis in order to acquire a visa. NX Healthcare can do the injection of the meningitis vaccine and help you get the certificate you need to get your visa for pilgrimage.

Which travellers are at risk from meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is especially dangerous for certain types of travellers.

Anyone travelling to meningitis-endemic nations during the dry season (December-June) is at risk of meningitis. Dusty winds and cold nights increase the risk of respiratory infections, including meningitis. See our travel advice on Sub-Saharan Africa for more information about travel in countries where meningitis is endemic.

Health workers, volunteers, and those on longer-than-one-month journeys have enhanced risk of infection by the virus that causes meningitis.

Those on a home stay (for example, if you are visiting friends or family and staying in their own homes) are at increased risk of meningitis. And anyone who is going to a large gathering, such as a wedding, burial, or festival is also at greater risk.

How can I avoid contracting meningococcal meningitis?

There is a vaccine for meningococcal meningitis. Teenagers in the United Kingdom may already be protected via the standard vaccine schedule. You can check your NHS records if you are unsure about your meningitis vaccine status. For additional information, contact a travel nurse professional, such as those at NX Healthcare.

You can also protect yourself from meningitis by washing your hands thoroughly. Don’t share cups, toothbrushes, lip balm etc. And, if at all possible, avoid crowed areas while on your trip abroad.

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