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Understanding the meningitis vaccine

Preventing bacterial meningitis

Many Americans are unaware of vaccines that prevent two out of the three most common types of meningococcal disease. These vaccines are safe, readily available, highly effective -- and they save lives.

meningitis: fast, lethal & preventable

Meningitis is a serious infection in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. There are two common types of meningitis infections; viral (which is easily treated) and bacterial (which is dangerous and more difficult to treat). Of the 2,600 people who are diagnosed with bacterial meningitis each year, 10 percent die. Another 11 to 19 percent live with debilitating side effects such as blindness, paralysis and mental retardation, while other patients recover completely.

Life-saving vaccines

The two prevention vaccines are the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which has been used since the 1970s; and the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which became available in 2005. Both work well, but the latter is more commonly used.

Who should be vaccinated & when

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the meningococcal conjugate vaccine should be given to all children at their pre-adolescent well visits or checkups, and to students entering high school who have not already received the vaccine. Individuals over the age of 2 should receive one dose, while those considered at high risk of contracting meningococcal disease are urged to receive two. People who've experienced a severe reaction to the meningococcal vaccine or to any other vaccine should not receive it at all. Due to limited research on pregnant women, they should receive the vaccine only if needed.

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine has been shown to be safe, and serious reactions are rare. Half of those who receive the vaccine report mild problems such as redness or pain at the site of injection. A small percentage develop fevers that usually last one or two days; more serious reactions can include wheezing, hives, difficulty breathing and rapid heartbeat. If you or anyone in your family experiences serious reactions after getting the vaccine, notify a doctor immediately.

To learn more about this vaccine and about meningococcal disease, check out the CDC's meningococcal disease website.

More on meningitis

Meningitis vaccine schedule
What is meningitis?
Symptoms of meningitis

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