Meningococcal C

This page provides a brief summary of the disease and the vaccine that is available to prevent it. Links to more detailed information are provided at the bottom of the page.


What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. This bacterial infection can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining around the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

There are different groups of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria that cause meningococcal disease.  Before the introduction of the meningitis C (MenC) vaccine in 2000, groups B and C caused most cases of meningococcal disease in Ireland.  Thanks to the MenC vaccine against group C bacteria, the number of cases of meningococcal disease due to group C bacteria has fallen dramatically.  Most cases are now caused by group B bacteria.

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How do people get meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal bacteria can live at the back of the throat or in the nose.  Most people, who carry these bacteria (carriers), remain well but they can spread the bacteria to others through coughing, sneezing, or kissing.  Close personal contact with a carrier sometimes leads to infection.  You need many hours of close personal contact to become infected as the bacteria do not survive long outside the body.

Meningococcal disease may occur at any age but the highest rate of meningococcal disease occurs in children under 5 years of age, especially children under one year of age.  The next highest risk group are young people aged 15-19 years.  In Ireland the risk of infection is highest in winter and early spring.

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What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

The onset of meningococcal disease can be very quick.  The symptoms of meningococcal disease include fever, stiff neck, headache, joint pains, and a rash.  If you think your child or baby has signs of meningococcal disease get medical help immediately from your G.P. or nearest paediatric Emergency Department.  In some cases acting quickly to get medical help can mean the difference between life and death. 

Meningococcal disease is a very serious life threatening illness.

Of the people who get meningococcal disease:

  • 1 in 20 will die
  • 1 in 10 people who recover will have a major disability such as deafness, brain damage or loss of fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms or legs.

Early diagnosis leads to early treatment with antibiotics and a greater chance that the person will make a full recovery.  Early diagnosis is the key so if you suspect that someone may have meningitis or septicaemia seek medical attention immediately.

More information is available at  

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Who should get meningococcal C (MenC) vaccine?

Meningococcal C disease is prevented by vaccination.

All babies will now get MenC vaccine at 6 months of age with a further dose given at 13 months.

A MenC booster dose is given in 1st year of second level school to provide extra protection for teenagers and young adults.

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Why has meningococcal C (MenC) primary childhood immunisation schedule changed?

In July 2015 the MenC immunisation schedule changed from three doses at four, six and 13 months to two doses at four and 13 months. The reason the schedule was changed is because we now know that two doses give babies as much protection as three doses.

For babies born on or after 1 October 2016, the time of giving MenC vaccine has been changed from 4 months to 6 months to allow babies get the MenB vaccine at 2 and 4 months for earlier protection against meningococcal B infection which is the most common type of meningococcal infection in this age group.

A MenC booster is given at 13 months of age at the same time as Hib vaccine.  This gives extra protection against MenC infection. A combined Hib/MenC vaccine will be given as one injection to infants born on or after 1 October 2016.

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Does the meningococcal C (MenC) vaccine protect against all meningococcal disease?

Only meningococcal C infection is prevented by the MenC vaccine.  Other types of meningococcal infection are not covered by this vaccine.  

Meningococcal B vaccine for protection against meningococcalB infection will be introduced for all babies born on or after 1 October 2016 as part of the Irish childhood immunisation schedule.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

It is very important to remain alert for symptoms of meningococcal disease as not all types are covered by the vaccine. Urgent medical attention should be sought if symptoms occur.

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Who should not get meningococcal C (MenC) vaccine?

There are very few people who should not get MenC vaccine. Your child should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of vaccine or any part of the vaccine.

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What to expect after having meningococcal C (MenC) vaccine?

After getting the vaccine, your child may have discomfort, redness or swelling around the area where the injection was given. They may be irritable and have a fever.

If this happens you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. You should also give them plenty to drink. Make sure they are not too warm and that their clothes are not rubbing against the injection area.

Children usually recover from these minor side effects within a day or two

Of the children who are immunised:

  • 1 in 2 will become irritable
  • 1 in 20 will get discomfort, redness or swelling where the injection was given or will have a fever
  • 1 in 100 may get a tummy upset or vomit

Serious side effects are very rare.

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How does meningococcal C (MenC) vaccine work?

MenC vaccine contains extracts from the meningococcal C bacteria. The vaccine works by making the body's immune system respond to the bacteria, without causing disease. 

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How effective is the MenC vaccine?

The MenC vaccine has been shown to be safe and very effective. 90% of children become immune to meningitis C bacteria when they have completed the recommended vaccine schedule. Since the vaccine was introduced in late 2000, the number of cases of meningococcal disease, due to group C bacteria, has declined dramatically. The number of reported cases has fallen from 139 in 2000 to just 6 in 2014; a reduction of 96%.

Note: The meningococcal C vaccine only protects against group C meningococcal disease and does not protect against other forms of the disease, most importantly group B meningococcal disease.

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Where can I find out more? 

You can ask for further information regarding immunisation from your G.P., Public Health Nurse or local health office.

In addition the links below provide some more detailed information:

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This page was updated on 27 March 2018