Meningitis is an infection of fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal
cord. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections.
About 1,000 - 2,600 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S.
Even when they are treated with antibiotics, 10-15% of these people die.
Of those who live, another 11 -19 % lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have
problems with their nervous systems, become mentally retarded, or suffer
seizures or strokes.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants
less than one year of age and people with certain medical conditions, such as
lack of a spleen. College freshmen who live in dormitories, and teenagers
15-19 have an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin.
Still, about 1 out of every ten people who get the disease dies from it, and
many others are affected for life. This is why preventing the disease
through use of meningococcal vaccine is important for people at highest
2. Meningococcal vaccine
There are two kinds of meningococcal vaccine in the U.S.:
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) was licensed in 2005. It is the
preferred vaccine for people 2 through 55 years of age.
- Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) has been available since the
1970s. It may be used if MCV4 is not available, and is the only meningococcal
vaccine licensed for people older than 55.
Both vaccines can prevent 4 types of meningococcal disease, including 2 of
the 3 types most common in the United States and a type that causes epidemics
in Africa. Meningococcal vaccines cannot prevent all types of the
disease. But they do protect many people who might become sick if they
didn’t get the vaccine.
Both vaccines work well, and protect about 90 percent of those who get
it. MCV4 is expected to give better, longer-lasting protection.
MCV4 should also be better at preventing the disease from spreading from
person to person.
3. Who should get meningococcal vaccine and when?
MCV4 is recommended for all children and adolescents 11 through 18 years of
This dose is normally given during the routine preadolescent immunization
visit (at 11 to 12 years of age). But those who did not get the vaccine
during this visit should get it at the earliest opportunity.
Meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for other people at increased risk
for meningococcal disease:
College freshmen living in dormitories.
Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria.
U.S. military recruits.
Anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where meningococcal
disease is common, such as parts of Africa.
Anyone who has a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed.
Anyone who has terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system
People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.