Meningococcal disease - Travel advice for men who have sex with men (MSM)


Clusters of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis serogroup C have been reported among men who have sex with men (MSM) in three EU Member States (Germany, France, Belgium). As of 23 July, nine cases have been notified since February 2013. Initial typing results suggest that the cases are due to a strain which is similar to that in an outbreak in New York that began in 2010.

The cases in these cities have been seen in MSM who are frequenting gay bars and clubs, and seeking contacts via social media (online or via mobile phone apps).

Meningococcal disease is a serious disease which requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, confusion. The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3-7 days after exposure.

About 10% of people have this type of bacteria in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms of disease, called being 'a carrier'. The bacteria are spread through respiratory and throat secretions. Rarely the bacteria invade the body causing meningococcal disease. 

People most at risk of getting it are those in close or prolonged contact with a carrier. Types of close contact include kissing, sexual contact or other prolonged close contact (in the same household). The bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been.

  • No cases of Meningococcal C disease among MSM have been reported in Ireland in recent years.
  • There is a specific vaccine that can prevent this particular form of meningococcal disease- called the MenC vaccine
  • MSM travelling to cities where IMD caused by Neisseria mengitidis serogroup C clusters have been reported should speak with their GP (administration fees may apply) or a doctor at the Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) and other STI Clinics about the MenC vaccine.

Further information is located here:

Symptoms and signs of meningitis and septicaemia

Invasive meningococcal disease among men who have sex with men - ECDC Rapid Risk Assessment, July  2013

Information on the Berlin cluster and the outbreak in New York were published in Eurosurveillance, 11 July 2013

Background information on MenC vaccine in Ireland
MenC vaccine has been routinely used in Ireland since 2000 when it was introduced for all children and young adults up to the age of 23 years. Many Irish MSM up to the age of 35 years have probably got the vaccine (through the catch-up programme) and would therefore be protected.

Anyone who had the MenC vaccine is probably protected against this type of meningitis.