Kalamaoo County

Health and Community Services Department

IMMUNIZATION CLINIC - About Meningitis Vaccine

What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection that can cause meningitis-severe swelling of the brain and spinal cord, or meningococcemia-a serious blood infection. It is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2-18 years old in the United States.

About 2,600 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. Ten to fifteen percent of these people die, in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Of those who live, another 11-19% lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become mentally retarded, or suffer seizures or strokes.

Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants less than one year of age and people with certain medical conditions, such as a lack of a spleen. College freshmen who live in dormitories have an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin. Still, about one out of every ten people who get the disease dies from it, and many others are affected for life. This is why preventing the disease through use of meningococcal vaccine is important for people at highest risk.

How is the disease spread?
The disease is spread through the exchange of fluid found in the respiratory system and throat (such as saliva or "spit"), usually through close, personal contact with someone who is infected. It is thought that certain social behaviors involving close personal contact such as sharing drinking glasses or water bottles, kissing, smoking (active or passive), or being in crowded situations may put young people at greater risk for getting meningococcal disease.

Why is it so dangerous?
Meningococcal disease often begins with symptoms that look like other common viral illnesses such as the flu. However, unlike more common infections, meningococcal disease can get worse very rapidly, and it can kill an otherwise healthy person in 48 hours or less. In fact, up to one in five people who get meningococcal disease will die. Of those who survive, one in five will suffer from permanent disabilities such as limb amputation, severe scarring, brain damage, and hearing loss.

What are the symptoms?
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Stiff Neck
  • Extreme Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Rash of small purplish black-red dots
Remember: Time is critical when it comes to treating meningococcal disease. Contact your doctor or seek medical attention if you suspect meningococcal disease.

Who is at risk?
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that meningococcal disease rates begin to rise during adolescence and peak between the ages of 15 to 24 years. Moreover, death rates from meningococcal disease are up to five times higher among adolescents and young adults (15 to 24 years old) compared with younger populations.

Can meningococcal disease be prevented?
Yes. Although meningococcal disease is serious and potentially life threatening, us to 83% of the cases in adolescents and young adults are potentially vaccine preventable. The meningococcal vaccine has been demonstrated to be safe, and offers protection against four of the five most common strains of bacteria that cause the disease.

Meningococcal vaccine
Two meningococcal vaccines are available in the U.S.:
  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) has been available since the 1970s.
  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) was licensed in 2005.
Both vaccines can prevent 4 types of meningococcal disease, including two of the three types most common in the United States and a type that causes epidemics in Africa. Meningococcal vaccines cannot prevent all types of the disease, but they do protect many people who might become sick if they didn't get the vaccine. Both vaccines work well, and protect about 90% of those who get it. MCV4 is expected to give better, longer-lasting protection. and should also be better at preventing the disease from spreading person to person.
Who should get meningococcal vaccine and when?
M.C.V.4 is recommended for all children at their routine preadolescent visit (11 to 12 years of age). For those who have never gotten M.C.V.4 previously, a dose is recommended at high school entry.

Other adolescents who want to decrease their risk of meningococcal disease can also get the vaccine.

Meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for other people at increased risk for meningococcal disease:
  • College freshmen living in dormitories.
  • Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria.
  • U.S. military recruits.
  • Anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as parts of Africa.
  • Anyone who has a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed.
  • Anyone who has terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder).
  • People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.
M.C.V.4 is the preferred vaccine for people 11 to 55 years of age in these risk groups, but M.P.S.V.4 can be used if M.C.V.4 is not available. M.P.S.V.4 should be used for children 2 to 10 years old, and adults over 55, who are at risk.

Where can I get more information?

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