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Meningococcal meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis

Last update: 2022-06-07

Key facts


  • Droplets of saliva/mucous pass from one person to another, mainly by kissing, coughing or sneezing, or by sharing eating and drinking utensils
  • Coughing or sneezing or close personal contact (infected droplets in the air are breathed in by another person)


  • Starts with sudden high fever and one of the following: neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches or vomiting.
  • If treated early with antibiotics, in 90 per cent of cases death can be prevented.
  • Without treatment, it affects the nervous system and can cause death.
  • It may result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability in 10 – 20 per cent of survivors.


  • Routine vaccination
  • Reduced overcrowding in shelters
  • Improved ventilation in shelters
  • Coughing etiquette (cough into sleeve, handkerchief or tissue, NOT the hand)
  • Handwashing with soap
  • Social mobilization and behaviour change communication

Vulnerable people

  • Infants, teens and young adults who are not vaccinated are most at risk.
  • Displaced populations, people living in cramped and crowded conditions, people who gather in large groups.
  • Individuals without a spleen or people living with HIV or other illnesses that weaken immunity

If an epidemic occurs

  • Rapidly detect and refer suspected cases to health facilities
  • Support a mass vaccination campaign
  • Promote handwashing with soap
  • Reduce overcrowding in shelters
  • Improve ventilation in shelters
  • Promote coughing etiquette (cough into sleeve, handkerchief or tissue, NOT the hand)
  • Increase social mobilization and behaviour change communication
  • Give antibiotics to close contacts of a person with meningitis (chemoprophylaxis)

Community-based assessment - questions

Make a map of the community and mark the information you gather on the map. Record other details.

  • When did people start to get sick with meningitis?
  • How many people have fallen sick with meningitis? Where?
  • How many people have died from meningitis? Where?
  • Who and where are the vulnerable people?
  • How many people at increased risk live in the affected community?
  • Are the people at increased risk vaccinated?
  • How many people live in the affected community or area? How many children under five years of age?
  • Are children under five most affected? Or are other age groups, occupations, etc., more affected?
  • How many close contacts do people with meningitis have? Where are they living? Are they showing symptoms of meningitis?
  • Are children in the affected community vaccinated for meningitis or not?
  • Is there a vaccination campaign planned?
  • Are there strong cultural beliefs or perceptions around vaccination which prevents children from being vaccinated?
  • Where are the local health facilities and services? (Include traditional or community carers.)
  • What are the community’s habits, practices and beliefs about caring for and feeding sick people in the community? When babies and infants are sick, do women continue to breastfeed them?
  • Is a social mobilization or health promotion programme in place?
  • Which sources or channels of information do people use most?
  • Are rumours or is misinformation about the disease spreading in the community?