Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungus, and other pathogens. The disease is spread through close contact with an infected person, including kissing, coughing, sneezing, or shared eating and drinking utensils. Even if you do not get infected by the bacteria, you are at risk of carrying and spreading the disease to others. There are five strains of the disease (A, B, C, Y, and W-135) with the four latter being the most commonly reported types in Italy.
The symptoms of Meningitis include a sudden high fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting, and a rapidly spreading skin rash that produces purple and red spots. Symptoms of the disease will usually happen two to 10 days after exposure.
Meningococcal disease can be fatal in approximately 10% of all cases. While the disease most commonly occurs in children under the age of five and youth between the ages of 15 and 19-years-old, you can contract the disease at any stage of life.
Meningococcal disease is vaccine preventable. The vaccination may have been administered to you based on the province or territory in which you were raised. A childhood immunization program was introduced against serogroup C IMD in 2002.
Typically healthy infants are immunized against Meningococcal Type C Meningitis at 12 months of age, but the administration timing differs based on location. If you received a Men-C vaccination as a child you should have also gotten a booster shot.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has approved four Meningococcal vaccinations:
- Monovalent conjugate meningococcal vaccine (Men-C-C)
- Quadrivalent conjugate meningococcal vaccine (Men-C-ACYW)
- Quadrivalent polysaccharide meningococcal vaccine (Men-P-ACYW-135)
- Multicomponent meningococcal vaccine (4CMenB)
The PHA recommends both the Men-C-ACYW and 4CMenB vaccines for travellers at increased risk of exposure to Meningococcal disease. These people include:
- Lab workers who may be exposed to strains of the disease
- Military personnel during training and deployments in endemic areas
Adults travelling to areas at high endemic risk of Meningitis should contact their Passport Health Travel Medicine Specialist six weeks prior to travel to see if an additional booster shot is recommended. The four approved Meningococcal vaccinations are available through our clinic.
The PHA says the risk of Meningitis is low for most travellers. There do, however, remain endemic areas around the world.
The “Meningitis Belt” that extends along 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. These are areas that are at high endemic risk, especially from December to June. That belt extends west from Senegal to Ethiopia in the east. Other countries in the Meningitis Belt include Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda. Nation-wide immunization programs have been introduced in more than a dozen of these at-risk African countries, with the World Health Organization reporting that over 220 million persons aged 1 to 29 had received the Meningococcal A conjugate vaccine.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia require proof of immunization with one of the quadrivalent vaccines for pilgrims participating in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
According to the PHA, there are an average of nearly 200 cases of Meningitis in Italy each year, with most occurrences happening during winter and spring.
If you have questions about the Meningitis vaccination or any other travel medicine inquiries, contact your Passport Health Travel Clinic today.