The transmission of meningococci occurs exclusively from person to person. However, the risk of contracting the disease is low. Even direct contact with an affected person very rarely leads to disease. Meningococci are very sensitive: they can only survive for a few seconds outside the human body. They die very quickly in the air or on household objects and cannot be transmitted through water in water pipes or swimming pools. Very close contact is required for infection (droplet infection, smear infection). Transmission through food does not occur.
Meningococci mainly cause meningitis (meningococcal meningitis) and/or blood poisoning (meningococcal sepsis). Sepsis results from the entry and subsequent spread of bacteria into the bloodstream. Subsequently, bacterial toxins and the immune system's defensive response can cause life-threatening circulatory and organ dysfunction.
Symptoms in infants
- tense or bulging fontanelle (gap between the skull plates - cranial suture)
- pale or blotchy skin
- refusal to feed
- high-pitched screaming or wailing when touched
- stiff body with convulsive movements or
- limp body
Disorders can occur at any age, but are more common in infants, toddlers, and adolescents. The disease can develop very quickly. If suspected, a doctor must be contacted immediately. The rash caused by meningococci (petechiae = punctiform skin bleeding that can occur as a result of sepsis) differs from other skin rashes in that it does not fade when a glass object (e.g. water glass, eye glasses) is pressed onto the rash.
Meningococcal disease must be treated with antibiotics. In most cases, with timely treatment, there is a complete cure. Since the infection can develop into a life-threatening disease within a few hours, early treatment is very important. In some cases, the disease can cause permanent damage or be fatal.
Situation in Austria
In 2022, seven laboratory-confirmed cases of invasive meningococcal disease (no death) were registered at the National Reference Centre for Meningococci. In Europe, disease rates (incidences) range from 0.11 to 1.77 cases per 100,000 population (ECDC, 2014). Detailed information on immunisation in all age groups, booster vaccinations, indication and travel vaccinations are published in the Austrian vaccination schedule. All vaccines currently licensed in Austria are published on the website of the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG).
The National Reference Centre for Meningococci has so far typed all submitted isolates according to serogroup, serotype and serosubtype. The serological determination of serotype and serosubtype is now replaced by molecular typing methods. This will be done by sequencing the variable gene regions of the outer membrane proteins PorA and FetA. This will be reported in the following format in the future: Serogroup: PorA: FetA
- real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction)
- cultural cultivation
- Latex agglutination
Typing by real-time PCR
- Identification of serogroups B and C
- Sequence-based typing
- Whole Genome Sequencing
Last updated: 21.09.2023