Sciensano & Meningitis

Last updated on 8-3-2023 by Charlien Hupko

What does Sciensano do?

Sciensano centralises the surveillance of infectious diseases and notably bacterial diseases such as invasive meningococcal diseases.

Invasive meningococcal diseases are rare in Belgium.

But due to their high fatality rate, the risk of complications and the high risk of transmission between close contacts of an infected person, they constitute a health emergency that must be declared to the “médecin inspecteur” (Medical Inspectorate).  

Finally, the Vaccine and Blood Product Quality Department is the Belgian Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL), which is responsible for the quality control of the meningitis vaccines before they can be placed on the European market. 

National Reference Centre for Neisseria meningitidis

Sciensano hosts the National Reference Centre (NRC) which provides epidemiological monitoring of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) and Listeria monocytogenes (listeria). 

The NRC reports the number of cases according to sex, region, age, mortality rate and symptoms: it thus helps to identify meningitis trends in Belgium.

Over 90% of the meningococcal strains (Neisseria meningitidis) and listeria (Listeria monocytogenes) of hospitalised patients in Belgium are sent to the National Reference Centre hosted by Sciensano which:

  • confirms the number of cases of meningitis
  • identifies and characterises the serogroups and serotypes of isolated strains 
  • studies their sensitivity to antibiotics.

Sciensano can thus inform the ‘médecin inspecteur d’hygiène’ (Medical Inspectorate for Hygiene) who will take the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the bacteria. 

Epidemiology of infectious diseases

The Epidemiology of infectious diseases unit centralises the surveillance of infectious diseases including meningococcal meningitis or Haemophilus influenzae (see Epistat). 

Sciensano publishes an annual report concerning the surveillance of infectious diseases caused by Neisseria meningitidis as well as a report on vaccine-preventable infectious childhood diseases, which includes meningococcal diseases.

The analysis of data from the National Reference Center as well as other databases makes it possible to follow the trend of this pathogen, circulating serotypes, to better know the distribution of the pathogen according to age, sex, geographical region, … and the impact of meningococcal disease on the health of the population.

These data are also used by the regions, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Control of vaccines for meningitis

Sciensano is the Belgian Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL) and is responsible for the quality control of the meningitis vaccines before they can be placed on the European market. This control is carried out by the OMCL, independently of the vaccine manufacturer and for each batch separately. This control consists on the one hand of a critical review of the production data and quality analyses carried out by the vaccine manufacturer and on the other hand of additional analyses carried out by an OMCL. Thus, the Vaccine and Blood Product Quality Department performs various laboratory analyses according to the European Official Control Authority Batch Release (OCABR) guidelines. In addition, the Department also checks whether the production and quality data of the vaccine manufacturer are in conformity with the specifications as approved and recorded in the registration dossier. If a batch complies with all the quality criteria, the Department issues a certificate to the manufacturer, the so-called EU batch release certificate, and the vaccine may enter the European market.


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