Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain become inflamed (irritated and swollen). This inflammation causes the cerebrospinal fluid to experience changes. Viral infections are the most common cause of this condition, however it can also be caused by bacteria. When caused by bacteria, the infection is considered extremely dangerous and can result in brain damage, or even death, even if it is treated. Because of the seriousness of this illness, being vaccinated is very important, however, it is also important to fully understand the safety of the meningococcal vaccine.
What Are the Symptoms of Meningitis?
Regardless of whether meningitis is caused by a virus or bacteria, the symptoms are typically the same. The symptoms can include:
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe headache
- Decreased consciousness
- Irritability or poor feeding in children
- Mental status changes
- Sensitivity to light
- Stiff neck
- Bulging fontanelles (infant’s soft spot curving outward)
- Opisthotonos (body help in unusual posture)
- Rapid breathing
What is the Meningococcal Vaccine and What is its Purpose?
The meningococcal vaccine protects against the A, Y, C, and W-135 subtypes of meningococcus. There is currently no vaccine that can protect against subtype B, which is responsible for approximately one third of all United States meningococcus diagnoses.
Most patients will need only one dose of this vaccine. Those who are consistently at a high risk for contracting meningitis, such as those who often travel to parts of Africa and those who have no spleen, should have a second dose of this vaccine five years after their initial dose. Children who had their first dose prior to being seven years of age who are at a high risk of contracting meningitis should get vaccinated with an interval of three years.
What are the Possible Meningococcal Vaccine Side Effects?
Even though this is a vaccine, side effects can occur. Knowing what these side effects are is important in fully understanding the safety of the meningococcal vaccine. The mild side effects can affect about half of those who receive this vaccination and can include:
- Injection site reactions, such as pain, redness, swelling, warmth, and soreness
- A fever is experienced by a small number of patients
There is also the potential for severe reactions, but these are quite rare. They can include:
- Serious allergic reaction
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (serious nervous system disorder)
Who Should Not Get the Meningococcal Vaccine?
In some cases, patients will not be able to get the meningococcal vaccine or will have to wait a while before getting it. Such factors include:
- A previous severe allergic reaction to this vaccine or anything in it
- Having a moderate to severe illness
- Being pregnant (should only be given during pregnancy if absolutely necessary)
- Having current or past Guillain-Barre syndrome
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). List of Vaccines in the United States. Retrieved on June 24, 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/vaccines-list.htm
Medline Plus. (2010). Meningitis. Retrieved on June 24, 2010 from Medline Plus: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000680.htm
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