Although meningococcal infections are rare, they are very serious diseases that can cause death. Luckily, there is a vaccine to protect you against many of the meningococcal infections.
What is the Meningococcal Vaccine?
The meningococcal vaccine protects against the meningococcal bacteria which can cause serious infections such as meningitis (pronounced men-in-ji-tis), a brain fluid infection, and bloodstream infections. The meningococcal vaccines help protect people against the most common types of meningococcal disease that are seen in the United States: Serogroups B, C, and Y.
Basically, there are 2 categories or types of meningococcal vaccine. One type protects against Serogroups A, C, W and Y meningitis and another category that protects against Serogroup B meningitis. The Serogroup B (meningococcal) vaccine may be recommended by your health care provider in addition to the vaccine for A, C, W, and Y if there is an outbreak of meningitis, if you work in a lab that studies meningococcal bacteria or if you have certain medical conditions such as a problem with your spleen, or before you go to college.
How Does the Vaccine Work?
The vaccine is made up of parts of the meningococcal bacteria that cannot cause infection. When you get the vaccine, your body makes antibodies to fight the meningococcal bacteria. These antibodies then help protect your body from infection if you come in contact with someone who has meningococcal disease.
When Should I Get the Meningococcal Vaccine?
Most preteens (boys and girls) get a meningococcal vaccine when they are between 11-12 years old. A booster shot is recommended at age 16 or between 16-18.
Other people who should get vaccinated are those who plan to travel to places where meningococcal disease is common (such as certain regions of Africa), people who may have come in contact with meningitis, anyone who has a disorder of their immune system, anyone whose spleen has been damaged or had surgery to remove it, and anyone who studies this disease in a lab.
Do I Still Need to Get a Booster Shot if I Got Vaccinated When I Was a Preteen?
Yes! Since the meningitis vaccine is thought to be effective for only about five years, you’ll need a booster vaccine about 4- 5 years after you got your first (meningococcal) vaccine. If you were 11 or 12 years old when you were vaccinated (against meningococcal disease), you should have a booster vaccine when you are 16. If you missed your vaccine when you were a preteen, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Talk with your health care provider. Teens who are at high risk for meningitis should receive a booster shot every 5 years. College freshman living in dormitories who received the MPSV4 (another type of meningococcal vaccine) 5 or more years ago should receive a dose of MCV4.
If you have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, it’s important to tell your health care provider. Ask if you had the vaccine and if you need to take antibiotics or another vaccine. This is true even if you have been vaccinated!
Are There Any Side Effects?
It’s very uncommon to have side-effects from vaccines.
The most common side effects are:
- Redness and/or soreness where the shot was given
- Mild swelling around the area of the shot
- Slight fever
Is There Any Reason Why I Should Wait or Not to Get the Meningococcal Vaccine?
Most pre-teens and teens get the meningococcal vaccine without any problems. However, there are some reasons when you should wait or not get it.
You should not get the meningococcal vaccine if you:
- Have had an allergic or bad reaction to the meningococcal vaccine in the past
- Have had a serious allergic reaction to any part of the vaccine (for example, the vaccine fluid)
- Are very sick when you are scheduled to get the shot (call your health care provider and reschedule your appointment)
Is There Anything Else I Should Know Before Getting the Meningitis Vaccine?
Yes. It’s a good idea to ask your health care provider about your vaccine history.
Questions to ask may include:
- Are there any reasons why I shouldn’t get the meningococcal vaccine?
- Do I have any known allergies to any medicine or vaccine?
- What should I do if I come in contact with someone who has the meningococcal disease?
Check with your health care provider about whether you are immunized and whether you need to take preventive antibiotics or vaccines for meningococcal Type B.
What is Meningococcal Disease?
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness and the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2-18 years old (in the United States). Bacterial meningitis infects the covering of the brain and the spinal cord.
How Do You Get Meningococcal Disease?
The meningococcal bacteria is usually spread by coming in contact with respiratory secretions when an infected person coughs or sneezes or by having contact with saliva (fluid in the mouth) when drinking from a water bottle, sharing cigarettes, and kissing. The bacteria may live in the throat without causing any symptoms, or may cause an infection of the blood or the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The most common early symptoms are: high fever, chills, headache, tiredness, stiff neck and later, sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 1200 people living in the United States will get meningococcal disease each year. Of these people infected with the bacteria, 10-15% will die, (even with treatment). The good news is most types of meningococcal disease can be prevented by getting vaccinated.
Who is at Risk for Getting Meningococcal Disease?
Anybody at any age living anywhere can get the meningococcal disease; the disease is most common in children younger than 5 years (infants are particularly at risk), teens 16-21 and people over 65 are at a higher risk. College students or anyone living in crowded living conditions are at a higher risk because the meningococcal bacteria are easily spread from one person to another. About 1000 people become infected with the meningococcal disease in the U.S. each year. It is a very serious disease and even with treatment, about 1 in 10 people will die from it. For those who survive, about 20% may have permanent damage such as deafness, seizures, mental retardation, or loss of fingers and toes.
How is Meningococcal Disease Treated?
Meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. Early treatment is very important! The best form of protection against this serious disease is PREVENTION – getting vaccinated!