About the meningitis vaccine
The Meningococcal disease, or meningitis, is not as prevalent as it used to be, but people still contract it, and it is still a dangerous illness. Meningitis can cause serious infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord or in the blood.
Currently, there are two types of meningitis vaccinations available in the US. The first immunizes against the meningococcal A, C, W and Y strains. The second is a meningitis B vaccine for B strains of the disease.
The CDC recommends a meningitis vaccination with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine for children 11–12 years old and a booster shot around 16 years old. Teens and young adults can also get vaccinated for meningitis with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine.
Where to get the meningitis vaccine
The CDC recommends vaccination against meningitis (Meningococcal Disease) for people who travel to countries where Neisseria meningitides, the bacteria that causes meningococcal disease, is common, especially in areas of central Africa (called the “Meningitis Belt”). Proof of vaccination is also required for people traveling to Mecca for yearly pilgrimages. One vaccination is required, and should be administered at least 10 days in advance of travel.
Thinking of getting a meningitis vaccination? Contact your local Pharmaca pharmacy to schedule an appointment.
What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane, or meninges, surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The swelling that occurs from meningitis typically result in symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck.
Most cases of meningitis in the US are viral infections, but bacterial and fungal infections can also cause the disease. Some cases of meningitis can clear up without treatment in just a few weeks; others can be more serious and life threatening and require immediate treatment.
Types of meningitis
There are a few types of meningitis, including viral, fungal and bacterial meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis has the potential to be life threatening and can spread between people who are in close contact with each other.
Viral meningitis is usually less severe, and most people recover without treatment. Viral meningitis is also the most common form of the disease.
Fungal meningitis is rare, and usually only occurs to people with weakened immune systems.
How do you get meningitis?
There are several ways that meningitis is spread from person to person, based on the type of the disease itself. Viral meningitis infections are the most common cause of the infection, followed by bacterial meningitis and rarely, fungal infections.
In cases of bacterial meningitis, bacteria enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain and spinal cord and causes acute bacterial meningitis. However, bacteria directly invading the meninges can also cause this type of infection. This can arise from an ear or sinus infection, a skull fracture or, rarely, after some surgeries.
Most cases of meningitis in the United States are caused by enteroviruses, most common in late summer and early fall, and result in viral meningitis cases. Viruses like herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps and West Nile can also cause viral meningitis.
In this type of meningitis, slow-growing organisms, like fungi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, invade the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain. Chronic meningitis can develop over a couple of weeks, and the symptoms of chronic meningitis are similar to those of acute meningitis.
Other Meningitis Causes
Meningitis can also result from fungal reactions and non-infectious causes, like chemical reactions, drug allergies, certain types of cancer and inflammatory diseases like sarcoidosis.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
Early signs and symptoms of meningitis may resemble flu symptoms. Signs of meningitis may develop over hours or even over a few days.
Possible signs and symptoms of meningitis in anyone older than the age of 2 include:
- Sudden high fever
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache with nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking
- Sensitivity to light
- No appetite or thirst
- Skin rash
Common symptoms of meningitis in babies include:
- Poor eating
- Sleepiness or trouble waking up from sleep
Most people who experience viral meningitis usually get better on their own within 7–10 days. However, viral meningitis symptoms are similar to those for bacterial meningitis.
What is the meningitis vaccine?
Currently there are 2 types of vaccines for meningitis:
- The MenACWY vaccine for preteens, teens, and children and adults with certain health conditions
- The MenB vaccine for people age 10 years and older who have certain health conditions—or are in an area with an outbreak of serogroup B meningococcal disease
Meningococcal vaccines are also recommended by the CDC for people at increased risk for the disease, including:
- Those who live in places where people are in close contact with each other (like college dorms)
- Have certain medical conditions (e.g. HIV)
- People traveling to sub-Saharan Africa known as the “Meningitis Belt”
The MenACWY meningitis vaccine is recommended for:
- Preteens and teens ages 11–18
- Children and adults age 2 months and older and adults who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease
The MenB meningitis vaccine is recommended for people 10 years and older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal disease. Also, all teens can get the meningitis B vaccine, preferably at age 16–18, directly before college. Multiple doses may be required.
The CDC has concluded that college freshman are seven times more likely to contract meningitis than other college students. This is because infectious diseases spread where large groups of people gather together, such as a college dormitory.
The meningitis B vaccine is invaluable for any college student, especially those living in the dorms. In fact, many universities and health care providers provide free meningitis vaccines for college students across the country to prevent against unnecessary outbreaks of the infection.
If you’ve previously received a meningitis vaccination, the CDC recommends getting a booster shot before heading off to college.
Meningitis vaccine side effects
Many people worry about dangers from the meningitis vaccine itself, but side effects are minimal, if present at all. Also, the vaccine can’t cause the meningococcal disease itself.
If you have any reaction to the meningococcal shot, it will most likely be mild. Side effects of the meningitis vaccine may include:
- Mild pain and redness at the injection site
- Slight fever
In rare cases, the meningococcal vaccine may cause a severe allergic reaction. Signs of this reaction can include: