As parents, we do whatever we can to help protect our children. We baby-proof our houses. We insist upon bike helmets. We carefully research car seats. When it comes to our children’s health, one of the most important things we do to help protect our children is get them vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases like meningitis B, a form of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) caused by Neisseria meningitis group B bacteria.
What is Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD)?
- Although rare, invasive meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria can invade the body causing serious illness, like meningitis. It can also cause septicemia – an infection of the bloodstream.
- Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungus.
- Five main groups of bacteria cause the majority of cases of IMD in Canada – A, B, C, W-135 and Y.
- Since 2007, group B strains have caused almost 60% of invasive meningococcal disease cases in Canada.
- Meningococcal disease can progress rapidly from cold or flu-like symptoms to potentially deadly within 24 to 48 hours.
- The bacteria that cause IMD and meningitis can be spread through everyday behaviours like coughing or sneezing, sharing eating utensils, kissing, and close physical contact.
- Symptoms of meningitis often resemble a cold or flu in the early stages. While symptoms may not present at all, they can include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to light, or loss of appetite. Depending on the type of bacterium, the incubation can be between two days and three weeks.
- Infants and newborns may present with different symptoms. Signs in this age group can include refusing feeds or vomiting, dislike of being handled, difficulty waking or lethargy, breathing problems, rash or diarrhea.
Who is Most at Risk for IMD?
Infants and children under five are most at risk of developing meningococcal disease, followed by adolescents.
Meningitis tends to occur more often in the colder weather/seasons as we tend to be in closer contact indoors and for longer periods.
What are the Risks and Complications Associated with IMD?
Though rare, meningococcal disease is very serious. Up to 1 in 5 survivors of invasive meningococcal disease have serious consequences, and about 1 in 10 people who get sick will die.
Because it often starts with ambiguous symptoms, meningitis can initially be misdiagnosed; but, because the illness can progress rapidly, potentially becoming deadly within 24-48 hours, getting a proper diagnosis and prompt treatment is vital.
While some people survive and recover fully from meningitis and septicemia, others can experience after-effects. For meningitis, these can include cognitive effects (memory loss, difficulty retaining information, lack of concentration, learning deficiencies, mental impairment); co-ordination problems; seizures. For septicemia, after effects can also include damage to kidneys, lungs, possible amputations and arthritis.
What Can Parents Do to Help Protect Their Children?
The good news is that in many cases, IMD can be prevented. Vaccination is the best defence against meningococcal disease. Encouraging children to practice good hygiene is also important.
While there is no vaccine to protect against all strains of IMD, there are vaccines available for the prevention of all five of the most common disease-causing strains (A, B, C, W-135 and Y).
Some of these vaccines are part of Canada’s routine vaccination schedule; but some, such as meningitis B vaccines, are not. So, even if your child received a vaccine, they may not be covered for meningitis B.
To help make sure their children receive protection from all vaccine-preventable strains of IMD, parents are encouraged to talk to their healthcare providers about their options. Healthcare providers can discuss which vaccines are available, which ones their child has received and which ones may be missing, and give in-depth info about each vaccine.
Where Can Parents Find Additional Information?
First and foremost, parents should reach out to their health care providers, who can provide more individualized information and care.
Other resources parents might find useful include:
Meningitis and meningococcal disease can be scary to think about – but parents can do a lot to help protect their children from these serious illnesses. Talk to your healthcare provider, stay up to date on science-backed information, and make sure your child is fully vaccinated.
Sponsored by a leading research-based pharmaceutical company. Vaccines do not provide 100% protection. Additionally, vaccines do not treat infection or prevent its complications. Adverse events or allergic reactions may occur. Ask your healthcare provider if vaccination is right for you or your family.