Anne Geddes Joins Forces with Paralympic and Elite Para-athletes to Raise Awareness of Meningococcal Disease

New Survey Reveals Gaps in Knowledge Parents Feel They Have about Meningococcal Disease and its Potential Consequences


Mississauga, Ontario – April 22, 2016 – A recent survey1 of Canadian parents with children aged four and under revealed that while they understand that meningococcal disease poses a health risk to children, 72 per cent feel they do not know enough about the different strains of meningococcal disease and the damage it can cause.

This survey, conducted by GSK and released for World Meningitis Day, is part of an international disease awareness initiative focused on the importance of knowing about all types of meningococcal disease and the steps parents can take to help protect their children from the potentially devastating consequences.

As part of this initiative, Paralympic and elite para-athletes from around the world have joined forces with world-renowned photographer and global advocate for children, Anne Geddes, who has spent her career working on causes related to improving the health of children, including vaccination. Using her unique style of visual story-telling, Geddes will photograph para-athletes, who are survivors of meningococcal disease, with healthy newborns as a positive representation of the effort to help protect children from meningococcal disease, including bacterial meningitis.

Representing Canada in this global campaign is double-amputee Madison Wilson-Walker, an 18-year-old high school student and member of Team Canada who was stricken with meningococcal disease at age three and hopes to represent Canada in the upcoming Summer Paralympic Games in Brazil.

“Having experienced first-hand the impact of meningococcal disease, I’m proud to be part of a campaign that highlights the need for more knowledge and awareness of the disease, while at the same time, share positive and inspiring stories of survivors who have thrived regardless of their disabilities,” said Wilson-Walker. “I was raised with the words ‘never say can’t’ instilled in me, which has given me the courage and motivation to become a competitive athlete and hopefully a role model to others.”

Helping to control a preventable disease

Invasive meningococcal disease is a rare, but sudden life-threatening bacterial infection that can cause serious illness like meningitis, an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.2,9 Infants and adolescents are particularly susceptible to meningococcal disease; infants in particular are at the greatest risk.3 Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics and the majority of patients get better. It is important that treatment be started promptly as the disease can spread quickly with serious outcomes8 and can lead to death within 24-48 hours of the first symptoms.4 Since it is impossible to know who will be affected by meningococcal disease, an effective way to help prevent it is through the use of vaccines.

While there are vaccines available for the prevention of the five main groups of bacteria (A, B, C, W-135, and Y)that cause the majority of bacterial meningococcal disease cases in Canada5,there are gaps when it comes to parents’ knowledge about whether or not their child has been vaccinated against all five groups.1

Seventy-seven per cent of parents consider their child to be up-to-date with all recommended meningococcal disease vaccinations; however, 68 per cent say they are actually unsure about what vaccines for common strains of meningococcal disease are included within the childhood immunization schedule.1

The survey also found that out of a list of 14 vaccine-preventable diseases provided to parents, meningococcal disease was considered by more parents to pose a health risk to their children, with 37 per cent of parents selecting it in their top three; however, just over one third (34 per cent) don’t know or are unsure of the most common way for children to contract it.1

Parents want to know more

Ninety-one per cent of parents believe that their healthcare practitioner should inform them of all vaccines available for preventable diseases, even if they are not part of the routine immunization schedule.1

About meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease typically manifests as bacterial meningitis – an infection of the membrane around the brain and spine; or bacteraemia – a bloodstream infection. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (N. meningitidis).6 The initial symptoms of meningococcal disease are often flu-like, and it can be difficult for even a healthcare professional to diagnose in the early stages. Classic symptoms – such as neck stiffness, cold hands and feet, light sensitivity, and petechial rash (small red or purple spots) – do not appear until relatively late in the illness, which can delay lifesaving treatment.7 A range of antibiotics can treat the infection and most cases get better when started on treatment quickly but some cases may progress.8 Five to 10 per cent of cases may end in death and 10 to 20 per cent of survivors may suffer a subsequent lifelong physical or mental disability.4

In Canada, there is an average of almost 200 cases of invasive meningococcal disease per year.9 Meningococcal serogroup B is the leading cause of infection in Canada, responsible for almost 60 per cent of all cases, the next highest group being the Y strain, responsible for an average of 34 cases annually.5

About the survey1

The survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI and commissioned by GSK. It was carried out in February and March 2016 via an online survey of parents, with a sample of 5,000 respondents, from five countries across three continents: Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy and Portugal. In each country 1,000 parents were surveyed. The criteria for inclusion were that potential respondents must have at least one child aged four years or under and be involved in decisions concerning their children’s health, for example, which childhood vaccinations they will receive/ have received. Mothers and fathers were included in the survey in the ratio 2:1 and a minimum of 150 parents per country had to have a child six months and under.

About GSK

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1 International Meningitis Parent Survey, Ipsos MORI on behalf of GSK. 5 February – 4 March, 2016. (Data on file).

2 Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada. (2011). Meningitis Overview. Available at Accessed April 2016.

3 Jafri RZ, et al. (2013). Global epidemiology of invasive meningococcal disease. Population Health Metrics; 11:17. Available at: Accessed February 2016. 

4 World Health Organization. (2012). Meningococcal Meningitis Factsheet N°141. Available at: Accessed March 2016.

5 Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada. (2011). Meningococcal vaccine. Available at Accessed April 2016.

6 European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). (2014). Annual Epidemiological Report-Vaccine-preventable diseases-invasive bacterial diseases 2014. Available at: Accessed February 2016.

7 Thomson MJ, et al. (2006). Clinical recognition of meningococcal disease in children and adolescents. Lancet; 367, pp.397–403.

8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Bacterial Meningitis. Available at: Accessed April 2016.

9 Public Health Agency of Canada. Invasive Meningococcal Disease. Available at: Accessed April 2016.


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