Meningococcal disease is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can cause meningitis and meningococcemia. The disease can be prevented by a vaccine routinely given to children as part of their routine immunizations.
What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria meningococcus. Some people are natural carriers of the germ (harboring it in their throats and noses), but don't get sick. In some instances, however, the germ "wakes up" and can cause serious complications including bacterial meningitis (an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord) and meningococcemia (an infection of the blood and other organs). It's quite contagious; an infected person can spread the disease just by breathing. There are also known cases of viral meningitis. The vaccine Haemophilus influenzae Type B (HIB) is routinely given to children as part of their scheduled immunizations to prevent mingococcal disease.
Who gets it?
Infants should receive doses of the HIB vaccine as part of their routine immunizations. High-risk individuals and those living in cramped quarters (college students, people with compromised immune systems) also should be vaccinated.
What are the side effects?
People only rarely report feeling sick after getting the HIB vaccine. The most common reactions include swelling at the injection site. Some children may develop a mild fever.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend this vaccine for children, starting in infancy.
What you need to know
Children need three to four doses of the vaccine for it to be effective (most doctors recommend a child receive the vaccine at 2, 4, 6 and 12 and 15 months of age).