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An Overview of Meningococcal Meningitis

What's the Treatment for Meningococcal Meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis can cause death or serious complications, such as brain damage, paralysis, gangrene, or deafness. To prevent these problems, it's important to act quickly. Do not wait. Seek immediate medical attention. Go to an emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You notice symptoms of meningococcal meningitis
  • Symptoms do not improve with treatment
  • You think you have been exposed to meningococcal meningitis

Tests can confirm a diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis. The doctor may start antibiotics, such as penicillin or ceftriaxone, by an IV, or intravenous line. You or your child may also need other medication to treat problems related to increased spinal fluid pressure. Doctors sometimes prescribe steroids.

If you or someone you love has come into close contact (via saliva or other oral secretions) with someone who has meningococcal meningitis -- such as at school, day care, work, or home -- it is very important to get antibiotics to prevent infection. 

Are There Vaccines for Meningococcal Meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is a serious disease -- even with treatment. That's why prevention is a far better approach. The meningococcal vaccine can prevent meningitis infection. In the U.S., two types of meningococcal vaccines are used:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) -- One of these vaccines, Menactra, is approved for people ages 9 months to 55. The other, Menveo, is used in those ages 2 through 55.
  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) -- This is the only vaccine used for people older than age 55.

Although they cannot prevent all types of meningococcal disease, both vaccines can prevent many types of the disease. Both are effective in nine out of 10 people. MCV4 tends to give longer protection and is better at preventing transmission of the disease.

Doctors recommend a dose of MCV4, which is given as a shot, for children at age 11, and then a booster shot at age 16. If the first dose is missed, the MCV4 can be administered between ages 13 and 15, followed by a booster dose between ages 16 and 18. Other people at risk should also consider getting a vaccine. That includes:

  • People who think they've been exposed to meningococcal meningitis
  • College freshmen living in dorms
  • U.S. military recruits
  • Travelers to areas of the world, such as Africa, where meningococcal disease is common
  • People with a damaged spleen or with terminal complement component deficiency, which is an immune system disorder
  • Lab personnel who are often exposed to the meningococcal bacteria

A second dose may be needed for people at high risk.

Wait to get vaccinated if you are very ill at the time you're scheduled for the shot. Avoid the vaccine if you:

  • Have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose
  • Have a severe allergy to any vaccine component
  • Have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome or acute disseminated encephalomyelitis

Mild pain or redness at the injection site is common and should not be a problem. But call your doctor right away if you have a strong reaction to the vaccine. This includes a high fever, weakness, or signs of an allergic reaction, such as trouble breathing, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 30, 2014
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