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Have a healthy back-to-school season

With school season and winter holiday gatherings right around the corner, take measures to keep your family protected against contagious illnesses. With youngsters in the household, be aware of meningococcal meningitis, a relatively rare but potentially dangerous infection with symptoms that can be easily mistaken for influenza1, a common contagious respiratory illness that affects many Canadians every year.2

The flu can cause headache, chills, cough, fever, muscle aches and fatigue, runny nose, and sneezing; symptoms are mild in most people, but can cause serious complications in some small children, pregnant women, seniors and those with other health problems.2 Meningococcal meningitis can cause flu-like symptoms but progresses so quickly that it can result in death or permanent disability within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms appearing.1

Meningitis is transmitted between people who share common items like water bottles and kitchen utensils or live in close quarters (think dormitory) or by kissing.3 Infants and adolescents are at greatest risk of infection. Approximately four of five meningitis cases in infants younger than one year of age, and about two-thirds of cases in children aged one to four years and adolescents aged 15 to 19 years are caused by meningococcal B bacteria.1

So is it meningitis or the flu? Both can cause high fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting and drowsiness. Rapid worsening of symptoms over 24 to 48 hours, sensitivity to bright light, confusion, and a measles-like, purplish skin rash are more likely to be due to meningitis.3

Vaccines can help protect against many causes of flu and of meningitis. Each year, a new vaccine is available to protect against the influenza virus strains that are expected in the coming influenza season. Being vaccinated every year helps provide maximum protection against the flu.2

Protection against meningitis is broader than ever before, since the introduction in December 2013 of the first expansive coverage vaccine meningococcus B, which has the potential to prevent all of the major causes of bacterial meningitis outside of the newborn period. It can be used in individuals from two months through 17 years of age.

In Canada, routine meningococcal C conjugate vaccine is recommended for infants and/or young children, followed by a routine conjugate meningococcal vaccination for adolescents at around 12 years of age,4 the age when vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) is recommended for both females and males. HPV vaccines are given in three shots over six months. It’s ideal to get all three doses before becoming sexually active. HPV is transmitted through sexual activity, including oral sex and skin-to-skin non-sexual activity, and is the cause of most genital warts and cervical cancers.5


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This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

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  1. Health Canada Approves Bexsero*, the First Vaccine Available to Prevent Meningococcal Serogroup B (MenB).
  2. Canada Communicable Disease Report. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2013–2014. OCTOBER 2013;39:4.
  3. Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada. Meningococcal Disease. Retrieved from
  4. Update on the Use of Quadrivalent Conjugate Meningococcal Vaccines - Public Health Agency of Canada.
  5. Preventative measures for HPV and cervical cancer - Women's Cancer
  6. STD Facts - Human papillomavirus (HPV).