How is meningococcal meningitis transmitted?

The bacteria that cause meningitis are transmitted from person to person by saliva and secretions from the throat and nose during close contact that lasts a number of hours:

  • when coughing
  • when sneezing
  • when kissing 
  • when blowing one’s nose
  • when speaking
  • when carrying infected objects in one’s mouth (very rare).

The propagation of meningitis is mainly observed in closed communities (for example: families, crèches, boarding schools, dormitories, in densely populated areas). 

DID YOU KNOW? It is estimated that, in normal periods, between 10 and 20% of the population are carriers of Neisseria meningitidis (healthy or asymptomatic carriers). It is only in rare cases that the bacterium is invasive and causes an invasive meningococcal disease, such as meningitis and/or septicaemia. 

Where are the bacteria found?

The bacteria that belong to the meningococcal (Neisseria meningitidis) group are only present in humans, at the back of the throat or in the nose.

There are no animal reservoirs.

Anyone can be a carrier of meningococcus, without necessarily being ill (healthy or asymptomatic carriers). 

Contagious period     

An infected person is contagious 7 days before the symptoms appear and up to 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment

The risk of contagion is very high for people in close contact with the infected person.

Without antibiotic treatment, the risk of contagion is highest during the first 7 days after symptoms start. 

Sciensano hosts the National Reference Centre (NRC) which provides epidemiological monitoring for the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) and Listeria monocytogenes (listeria). The Belgian Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL) of Sciensano, together with the European OMCL network, is responsible for the quality control of the meningitis vaccine prior to marketing.

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