Available vaccines: Menactra® & Menveo® (conjugate vaccines), Bexsero® & Trumenba® (serogroup B vaccine)
Meningococcal disease refers to any bacterial illness that results in infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis is a serious and sometimes fatal infection that can also cause permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities. An additional complication from meningitis infection includes sepsis, sometimes resulting in tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
Different bacteria cause meningitis, and the risk of certain pathogens is largely dependent on an individual’s age. The common pathogens include the following: group B Streptococcus (newborns, babies and children, older adults); Streptococcus pneumoniae (newborns, babies and children, teens and young adults, older adults); Listeria monocytogenes (newborns, older adults); Escherichia coli (newborns); Haemophilus influenzae type b (babies and children, older adults); and Neisseria meningitides (babies and children, teens and young adults, older adults).
Babies are at the highest risk compared to any other age group for developing meningitis, although people of any age can become infected. The bacteria can be spread person to person, and some individuals may even carry the disease without getting sick themselves. Group B Streptococcus and Escherichia coli can be spread from mother to child during delivery, Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae are spread through respiratory droplets, Neisseria meningitidis is found in saliva and can be spread from kissing and coughing/sneezing, Escherichia coli can be found in food prepared by individuals who did not wash their hands after utilizing the bathroom, and Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes can be found in contaminated food.
Symptoms of meningitis may appear quickly, or can take several days to develop and include sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. Nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and altered mental status may also be present. Newborns and babies may present as irritable, feed poorly, appear to be slow or inactive, and have episodes of vomiting. Doctors may look for a bulging fontanelle (swelling of the soft spot on an infant’s head) and abnormal reflexes during examination.
As the meningitis progresses, later symptoms include seizures and coma. It is recommended to seek medical attention from a doctor as soon as possible and to start antibiotic therapy as soon as possible.
Due to vaccination efforts, the incidence of meningococcal disease is at a historic low in the United States. The meningitis vaccine covers Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae type b.
Who Should Get the Vaccine?
The CDC recommends the vaccine for all preteens and teens. Preteens (age 11-12 years) should receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine with a booster dose at age 16 years. Teens and young adults may also be vaccinated with the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine.
The meningococcal conjugate is recommended in children between age 2 months and age 10 years or the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine in children age 10 years or older if they have a complement component deficiency, are taking the medication Soliris®, have a damaged spleen or their spleen has been removed, have HIV, or if they will be traveling to a country where the disease is common.
In addition to the above recommendations, adults should receive a meningococcal conjugate if they are a military recruit or are not up to date on their vaccines and are a first-year college student living in a residence hall. Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to Neisseria meningitides should receive the meningococcal conjugate and serogroup B meningococcal vaccines.
Who Should NOT Get the Vaccine?
The vaccine should not be administered if the recipient is moderately to severely ill, or if they are allergic to the vaccine or ingredients in the vaccine.
It is not recommended for pregnant women to receive the vaccines unless they are at an increased risk for meningococcal disease.
Side effects from receiving the meningococcal vaccines are injection-site reactions (redness, pain, swelling), fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, fever or chills, and nausea or diarrhea. These adverse effects may last up to 3 to 7 days.
Medicaid covers vaccines per the ACIP vaccination recommendations—contact the specific insurance provider for more information.
Most private health insurances cover the vaccines—check with your provider for information.The Vaccines for Children Program may be able to help if you do not have health insurance coverage for your child or if your insurances do not cover vaccines.
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