What Is Meningitis & Do You Need The Meningococcal Vaccine?

What Is Meningitis & Do You Need The Meningococcal VaccineThe meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) protects you from four unique strains of meningococcal bacteria, including A, C, W and Y. All children are advised to receive the vaccination, as well as some teenagers and adults. There are different types of the vaccination approved for different age groups.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is related to inflammation of the meninges. The meninges include three unique membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord: dura mater, arachnoid mater and pia mater. Meninges are tasked with protecting your central nervous system.

10-12% of meningitis cases in industrialized countries are fatal, and 20% of survivors deal with long-term health issues such as brain damage, hearing loss, limb amputation and kidney disease. In the US, 3 out of every 100,000 people are infected each year.

Symptoms of meningitis include:



-Painful muscle aches

-A high fever


-Cold hands and feet

-A persistent rash that does not fade when placed under pressure.

-A stiff neck



-Rapid breathing

When do you get the meningitis vaccine?

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for children 2 months through 10 years if they are at an increased risk for developing meningococcal disease. Children may be at a higher risk if they have certain underlying health conditions, are traveling to a region with high rates of the disease, or due to a local outbreak. If your child remains at risk, booster doses may be administered in the following years.

Nearly all children between 11 and 12 should receive a single dose of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine at their standard checkup. The benefits of the vaccination will dwindle over time, which is why it’s recommended for 16-year-olds to receive an additional booster dose. This provides protection at a time when one is at a greater risk of developing meningococcal disease.

Adults may also benefit from the vaccine if they are at a heightened risk for developing meningitis.

Viral Vs. Bacterial Meningitis

There are two types of meningitis, viral and bacterial. Viral meningitis is the most common type and is rarely very serious. A range of viruses can cause it, including mosquito-borne viruses. In most cases this type of virus heals itself within a week, and as a result there are no specific treatment regimens.

Bacterial meningitis is less common but more serious. There are three different types of bacteria known to cause it. You can contract bacterial meningitis by coming into contact with bodily fluids from an infected individual’s nose or throat.

How long does the meningitis vaccine take to become active?

The meningitis vaccine takes a total of 2 weeks to become fully activated in the body. Once active, it provides protection between 3 and 5 years.  If you are HIV positive it is recommended that you receive 2 booster shots spread 2-3 months apart.

Is there a difference between meningitis and meningococcal?

Meningococcal and meningitis are not one in the same. Meningococcal is the illness caused by a specific strain of meningococcal bacteria; this includes meningitis but can also include blood poisoning (septicemia).

How is meningitis transmitted?

Meningitis is not as easy to transmit as most other diseases. In order to become infected you most come in direct contact with infected fluids from the nose or throat. It is commonly spread through kissing, sneezing or coughing. The more time you spend in close proximity to an infected individual the greater your risk of infection. This is why caregivers and family members are encouraged to get the vaccination, as are college students living in dorms.

Increased risk factors for developing meningitis include:

-A damaged or missing spleen

-Complement component deficiency

-Regular exposure to Neisseria meningitides

Traveling to or living in an area with high rates of meningitis.

-Living in close quarters with others, such as in a college dormitory.

-Entering the military

-Traveling to certain at-risk regions. This includes sub-Saharan Africa, especially if you go during the dry season.

Who should not get the meningitis vaccination?

If you have a mild cold or flu it is generally okay to still get the vaccine, but if you are very ill you should wait until after you recover. Pregnant women are generally okay to get the vaccine. Although, MCV4 and MenB are newer vaccines and as a result have not undergone the same testing to track long-term safety amongst pregnant women.

If you are allergic to certain components in the vaccine you should not get it.

If you have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome you will need to talk with your doctor before getting the vaccine.

Can the vaccine cause meningitis?

No, absolutely not. The vaccine does not contain live bacteria. Instead, it contains antigens that trigger your body’s immune system into producing the antibodies necessary to combat the bacteria if it invades your body. It is possible that someone with the vaccine may still become infected with meningococcal disease, but the risk is much lower.

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