Invasive Meningococcal Disease

Causes

What causes invasive meningococcal disease? How is it spread?

If the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis invades the blood or meninges, it can cause meningococcal meningitis. Some people carry this bacterium in their throat or nose without getting sick. The bacteria can invade the body causing serious illness. They may also infect others.

Invasive meningococcal disease can lead to:

  • meningitis, a dangerous infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and/or
  • septicemia, a serious blood infection.

Invasive meningococcal disease is spread through close, direct contact such as:

  • living in close living quarters
  • kissing, coughing or sneezing
  • sharing food or drinks
  • sharing toothbrushes, mouthguards, cigarettes or lipstick
  • sharing mouthed toys, or musical instruments with a mouthpiece

Antibiotics can usually help stop the bacteria from spreading within 24 hours of treatment.

Different types of invasive meningococcal disease are found in different places:

  • Serogroup A is found mostly in Africa and Asia
  • Serogroup B is found mostly in Europe and most of the Americas

In Canada, serogroup B causes most illness.

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