Bacterial Meningitis Vaccinations: Who Should Get Them?

Bacterial meningitis is a very serious type of meningitis as it can lead to permanent disability or death. The disease that occurs when the meninges (membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord) become inflamed and is caused by a bacterial or viral infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis causes symptoms like intense pain, sensitivity to light, fever, stiff neck, convulsions, fatigue, vomiting, muscular rigidity, and nausea. Although this condition can be severe, medical breakthroughs have led to the discovery of bacterial meningitis vaccines.

Treating Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis vaccines are the most effective way to protect against certain forms of the disease. The meningococcal vaccine protects from four types of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease, pneumonia, and blood infections.

Doctors recommend that people get the meningitis vaccine because 10% to 15% of the affected people are at risk of dying even if they have been treated with antibiotics. What’s more, approximately 20% of those who survive bacterial meningitis may develop some long-term issues like brain damage, loss of limbs, hearing loss, or seizures. 

At-Risk Demographics

Babies, children, teens, and young adults are at the highest risk of infection because of close and prolonged contact such as kissing, coughing, sneezing, and sharing drinks and food utensils with an infected person.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following people to get bacterial meningitis vaccines:

  • Those working in meningococcal research labs
  • Those living in dorms (particularly first-year students)
  • People working in the military
  • Those with damaged spleens
  • Those taking eculizumab (Soliris)

When traveling to areas like the Sub-Saharan regions, it’s important to get bacterial meningitis vaccines. In general, experts recommend that people under the age of 55 should get the meningococcal vaccine as they are prone to contracting meningitis during social interactions.

Types of Bacterial Meningitis Vaccines

The most common vaccine for meningitis is the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), which is sold as Menactra, Menveo, or Menhibrix. These bacterial meningitis vaccines are recommended for people younger than 55 years, although they can also use the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) vaccine. If you are older than 56, you should opt for the MPSV4 vaccine.

The MVC4 and MPSV4 are used to prevent the four most common types of meningitis in the world. Another meningitis vaccine called MenB prevents against the Meningococcal B strain.

When to Get Vaccinated for Bacterial Meningitis

Experts recommend that individuals get immunized against meningitis at the age of 11, followed by a second dose at the age of 16. The vaccination requires an injection into the muscle. Less common types of the vaccine like Bexsero and Trumenba are administered in two and three doses, respectively.

Those Who Should Not Get Vaccinated

Individuals who have had severe allergic and life-threatening reactions to the vaccine in the past, as well as those who have suffered from the Guillain-Barre syndrome, should not get the bacterial meningitis vaccine. Anyone who is either moderately or severely ill should also avoid getting meningitis vaccines.

Side Effects from the Vaccines

Side effects from the bacterial meningitis vaccines occur in about half of those who get vaccinated. The side effects may include redness and pain at the injection site; an effect that can last less than two days. However, serious side effects like body weakness, high fever, and a change in behavior can also occur. In rare cases, the side effects or allergic reactions can range from paleness, fast heartbeat, hives, and trouble breathing.

If someone develops any of these symptoms after receiving one of the bacterial meningitis vaccines, they need to see a doctor right away.

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