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Are you aware of meningococcal meningitis?

Are you aware of meningococcal meningitis?
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15 Oct 2018

It’s hard to avoid exposure to this deadly respiratory disease

If you’ve got a trip to Africa coming up, it’s time to check that your meningococcal meningitis shots are up to date. The peak season for meningococcal meningitis in Africa is the dry season, which falls between December and June.

You should see your travel health adviser at least six weeks before you travel. This ensures that you have time to space multi-dose vaccines; and it means that your immune system has had time to work up a good degree of protection. If you need information about travel jabs in Calgary, come and see us and Canadian Travel Clinics.

Meningitis is often contracted through respiratory droplets, which are spread via coughs and sneezes. Respiratory infections are more common during the African dry season, with its cold, dusty winds, so people are more likely to cough or sneeze, spreading the bacteria around.

What is meningococcal meningitis?

Not to be over-dramatic, but meningococcal meningitis is a medical emergency. About 5-10% of patients will die (that rises to 50% without treatment). Survivors may be left with brain damage, hearing damage and other disabilities.

If you think you or someone you are caring for has meningococcal meningitis, get medical help immediately.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. It can progress to blood poisoning (septicemia).

Meningococcal meningitis symptoms

Everyone should know the main symptoms of meningitis. They are:

  • sudden fever
  • intense headache
  • drowsiness and confusion
  • stiff neck
  • nausea, vomiting

There is also a characteristic rash that does not fade when pressed with a glass. This often appears later on, though, so don’t wait before getting help.

How can I protect myself from meningococcal meningitis?

Getting vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis is a good first step. If you have a certificate of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis, bring it along to your appointment.

You can reduce the risk of exposure to meningococcal meningitis by washing your hands often. Good sneezing and coughing etiquette will reduce the spray of respiratory droplets. Showing good habits like catching a cough or a sneeze in your sleeve (rather than your hand) may encourage others in your company to do likewise.

Where is the African meningitis belt?

There is a risk of meningococcal meningitis the world over, but parts of Sub-Saharan African have a particularly high incidence. A group of African countries lying on or south of the equator are known as the meningitis belt. They are:

  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • Central African Republic
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gambia
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Mali
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal
  • Sudan
  • South Sudan.
Which travellers are particularly at risk from meningococcal meningitis?

The following groups of travellers are particularly at risk from meningitis:

  • healthcare workers
  • people staying with friends or relatives
  • anyone on a homestay
  • anyone attending a gathering such as a festival, wedding or a funeral.
Where can I get travel vaccinations in Calgary?

If you need an appointment at a travel clinic in Alberta, turn to Canadian Travel Clinics. It is quick and easy to book online.

How can I learn more about meningitis?

The World Health Organization has a meningitis factsheet. And we have a blogpost about the Hajj with information about the certificate of vaccination against meningitis that you need to enter Saudi Arabia.