In this section
Meningococcal infection is caused by a bacteria (germ) called
meningococcus, and can cause serious infections
These infections can come on and become extremely serious very
quickly. Meningococcal infection may cause life long
disabilities or death in about one in 10 people. Many people
carry the bacteria in their noses and throats without getting
sick. They are called healthy carriers. Healthy carriers can spread the bacteria to other people. The
meningococcus bacteria is spread by tiny drops of fluid
from the nose and throat through coughing, sneezing, spluttering
and sharing eating and drinking utensils. It is not easy to
get infected because once out of the body, the bacteria do not
In newborns and babies, the typical symptoms may be hard to
Symptoms will show up within two to 10 days (but usually about three to four days) after your child has been in contact with meningococcus.
Symptoms often begin suddenly.
Anyone showing signs of meningococcal infection needs to
see a doctor or be taken to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately.
If your child has been in contact with a person who has
meningococcus, they may need antibiotic treatment. Contact people may include:
By law, doctors treating patients with suspected or confirmed
meningococcal disease must notify the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). You may be contacted by DHHS staff for more information. Your doctor and DHHS will let you
know who needs to have antibiotic treatment.
Rifampicin is the antibiotic medication that
is used to eliminate the meningococcus bacteria
from the contact people. This will prevent the disease from being
passed on to others. Usually two doses are given each day for
Any contacts who need to take rifampicin must
tell their doctor if they:
If you are a contact person and have any of the
above, you should not take
rifampicin. There are other medicines you can safely
Follow the instructions for taking
Taking rifampicin does not guarantee
prevention of the illness. If any of the above symptoms for
meningococcal infection develop, that person must seek urgent
Fact sheet developed in consultation
with the RCH department of General Medicine.
First published: 2003. Reviewed: December 2010.