Infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcus) is a very serious illness. It can cause meningitis, which is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and can also cause infections in the blood, and can result in death or serious disability.
This infection often occurs suddenly, without warning, and can happen in people who are otherwise very healthy. It spreads easily from person to person, through close contact, or lengthy contact, especially among people living in the same household, or living in dormitories or military barracks. Meningitis can be caused by other bacteria and viruses as well, but the disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis is generally the most serious and most contagious.
Can we prevent meningococcal disease?
There are now vaccines against several subgroups of this bacteria. These vaccines do not prevent all cases of this infection, but they can prevent a large percentage of cases.
There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available:
- Conjugate vaccines (Menactra or Menveo) protect against 4 subgroups (types A, C, W, and Y). These are the subgroups that cause most of the disease in adolescents.
- Serogroup B vaccines (Bexsero or Trumenba) protect against only the subgroup B.
Who should get a meningitis vaccine?
The CDC recommends that all preteens and teens should be vaccinated with a conjugate vaccine at age 11-12, then a booster dose should be given at 16 years old.
The CDC also recommends that certain preteens and teens
should get a group B meningococcal vaccine
if they have particular risk factors that make them more susceptible to the infection.
Teens may get a group B meningococcal vaccine, between 16-18 years old, if they choose to do so, but neither the CDC, nor the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this routinely because disease from this subgroup is at historically low levels. However, if there is an outbreak in your child’s community, this puts them into one of the high risk groups that should get the vaccine.
Vaccination with the conjugate vaccine is the best protection during the ages when they are at highest risk for this infection. Many colleges require proof of meningococcal conjugate vaccination within 5 years before starting school. I certainly would not have let my kids go to college without it.
If you would like more information about meningitis vaccination recommendations, you can check out this information from the CDC:
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Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip