Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal disease.
beginning of content

Meningococcal disease

2-minute read

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcal bacteria). It can develop quickly, and it can be fatal. Anyone with a suspected meningococcal infection needs to see a doctor immediately.

What causes meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal bacteria live in the nose or throat, and can be spread through coughing, sneezing, sharing eating and drinking utensils, and kissing. It’s not easy to pass the bacteria on, because they cannot survive outside the human body for long periods of time. The only way they are passed from person to person is if you live in the same house or have intimate contact, like deep kissing.

Very occasionally, meningococcal bacteria can invade the bloodstream, causing meningococcal disease that may present itself as sepsis (a blood infection, also known as 'septicaemia' or 'blood poisoning'), meningitis (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord), or an infection of another body part, such as the joints and eyes. Most cases occur in children under five years, but it can happen in people of any age.

Meningococcal disease symptoms

The common symptoms of meningococcal disease in babies and young children include: fever, food refusal, fretfulness, drowsiness, purple-red skin rash or bruising purple-red skin rash or bruising that does not turn skin-coloured when you press on it with a finger or the side of a clear drinking glass, high moaning cry, light sensitivity and pale or blotchy skin.

Symptoms in older children and adults include: headache, fever, vomiting, neck stiffness and joint pains, drowsiness and confusion, purple-red skin rash or bruising purple-red skin rash or bruising that does not turn skin-coloured when you press on it with a finger or the side of a clear drinking glass, and light sensitivity.

The signs and symptoms do not appear in a definite order and some may not appear at all.

This symptoms list does not include every possible sign and symptom.

Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency. It can kill within hours, so early diagnosis and treatment is vital. Do not wait for the purple rash to appear as that is a late stage of the disease.

If you are worried that you or someone you care for may have meningococcal disease, see your doctor immediately. If your doctor is not available, go to your nearest emergency department.

Last reviewed: September 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Brain Foundation | Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal Disease Meningococcal Disease (See also Meningitis) Read More at Virtual Medical Centre Description Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially life-threatening disease caused by the meningococcus bacterium

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease can be life-threatening. The disease is a result of a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain.

Read more on WA Health website

Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterial infection and can lead to serious illness. It is uncommon in NSW, and occurs more often in winter and spring. Infants, small children, adolescents and young adults are most at risk. Early treatment is vital.

Read more on NSW Health website

Meningococcal disease - myDr.com.au

Meningococcal disease: who gets it and what are the symptoms? Also, what causes this disease and how to prevent it.

Read more on myDr website

Meningococcal disease in Australia | Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Meningococcal disease is a rare bacterial disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis.

Read more on AIHW – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website

Meningococcal disease | Australian Government Department of Health

Meningococcal disease is a rare but life-threatening infection. It can affect people of all ages, but is especially serious in children, teenagers and young adults. Vaccination is the best protection against meningococcal disease.

Read more on Department of Health website

Immunisation Coalition | Meningococcal Disease - Immunisation Coalition

Meningococcal disease is a life threatening disease that can cause meningitis or septicaemia. Vaccines are available to protect against all common strains. Including a free vaccine for adolescents under the NIP.

Read more on Immunisation Coalition website

Meningococcal disease immunisation - Better Health Channel

Meningococcal group vaccines provide good protection against meningococcal group diseases.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Department of Health | Meningococcal W Disease

This page contains information regarding Meningococcal W disease for the public and health professionals.

Read more on Department of Health website

Immunisation Coalition | Diseases Archives - Immunisation Coalition

Meningococcal Disease Facts for:

Read more on Immunisation Coalition website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo