Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria that infect the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. An estimated 3,000 people each year become infected, and about 10 percent of those die from the disease. Currently, two safe, effective vaccines are available in the United States that can help protect you and your loved ones from this terrible infection.
When should my family be vaccinated?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals who are at high risk receive the meningitis vaccination. In the U.S., teens and adolescents are considered at the highest risk of contracting meningitis, although people of all ages can catch this infection.
The CDC advises the following:
- All 11- and 12-year-olds should be vaccinated with meningococcal conjugate vaccine.
- A booster dose should be given at 16 years old.
- For adolescents who receive the first dose at age 13 through 15 years, a one-time booster dose should be administered, preferably at age 16 through 18 years, before the peak in increased risk.
- Adolescents who receive their first dose of the shot at or after age 16 years do not need a follow-up booster dose.
- A booster shot can be safely administered at any time as long as it’s at least eight weeks after the initial vaccine was given.
According to the CDC, available data suggest that the booster dose is very safe, but vaccine safety will continue to be monitored.
The CDC says that, when the vaccine was originally recommended in 2005, it was expected to provide protection for 10 years. As time passed and more research was done, research found that it lasted for only about 5 years. Based on this finding, the CDC feels that the first vaccine alone does not provide protection during the most crucial years (16 to 21 years old). In the past, college students made up nearly 30 percent of all reported meningitis cases, and many colleges and universities now require that students be vaccinated within five years before they start school.
More than just teens
Although teens, adolescents and college students are most at risk, anyone can become infected with meningitis. Other children at high risk include:
- those who’ve traveled to countries where the disease is hyperendemic or epidemic
- children with complement component deficiency
- children with functional or anatomic asplenia
These children should be revaccinated three years after the first dose.
Adults at high risk include:
- military recruits
- prison inmates
- travelers to countries where the disease is widespread
- microbiologists who are exposed to the bacteria that cause the disease
These people are urged to get vaccinated, as well.
In addition, the CDC says that adults with a complement component deficiency or functional or anatomic asplenia should receive a two-dose primary series of MCV4 given two months apart.
Meningococcal disease is extremely serious and often deadly. Knowing the signs and symptoms and taking the necessary precautions can save lives. If you suspect that you or someone you know may be infected, get help right away. It could mean the difference between life and death.