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Vaccines Reduce Number of Meningitis Infections, but for How Long?

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In North America, bacterial meningitis outbreaks make the news because they tend to occur in clusters where young people are in close contact with one another for extended periods of time, such as schools or summer camps. But in other parts of the world, meningitis is a cruel fact of daily life, says Nancy Rosenstein, MD, from the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the CDC.

"In Africa in 1996, there were 250,000 cases of meningococcal disease and 25,000 deaths, so while every case in the developed world is very important, we see nowhere near the magnitude of disease they see in the developing world," she tells WebMD. Meningococcus is a group of bacteria which is most often responsible for meningitis.

And even though the currently available U.S. and Canadian vaccines wear off after a few years, that's long enough to reduce the risk of infection during outbreaks of the disease, which tend to flare up and disappear just as quickly, experts say.

In addition, the type of vaccine used in the U.K., which includes a bacterial protein that helps the body to recognize and destroy the bacteria, should be available in the U.S. within the next two to four years, and it will then be available for consideration as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule, Rosenstein tells WebMD.

But she also says that it may be asking a lot of doctors and parents to add yet another vaccination to the already complicated routine childhood immunization schedule. However, several vaccine manufacturers are reportedly working on new meningitis vaccines that can be combined with existing vaccines to simplify dosing, Rosenstein says.

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