Meningitis and Meningococcal Infection

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane overlying the brain. This illness can be caused by a bacterium, virus or fungus, with meningococcal meningitis being of most concern to travellers. Meningococcal meningitis is a serious bacterial infection that can rapidly become a life threatening illness. Transmission is by person- to-person droplet infection, the same way you catch a cold.

The principal region of high risk is in the “Meningitis Belt” of sub-Saharan Africa; Senegal, Mauritania and Ghana across to Ethiopia. There is a seasonal influence with most outbreaks occurring during the dry season (December to June).

Vaccination against Meningococcal A, C, Y & W-135 strains are required by Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umra pilgrims.


Typical symptoms of meningitis include headache, neck stiffness and fever. Presence of a rash usually signifies severe disease.


Vaccination is strongly urged for travelers to at-risk destinations, particularly those without access to reliable medical care. Vaccination may also be considered for young people staying extensively in crowded hostel or university accommodation.

Current vaccines offer excellent protection against the A,C,W, and Y meningococcal strains. This vaccine is a legal requirement for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.


Early treatment with appropriate antibiotics is critical in preventing death and permanent defects such as deafness and brain damage. If you have any of the symptoms of meningitis consult a doctor directly. The risk to travellers is generally small but will depend upon the time spent in high risk areas and contact with the local population.