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Understanding Meningitis -- Prevention

Meningitis is usually caused by many different viruses and bacteria. So the best methods of preventing it varies. But by getting vaccinated and taking sensible precautions, you can greatly reduce your risk. Here's what you need to know about meningitis prevention.

Meningitis Vaccines

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) -- 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 or 12. A second booster dose is given at age 16. Other people at risk should also consider getting a vaccine, including:

  • 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

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

Mild pain or redness at the injection site is common and should not be a problem. But call your health care provider 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.

Other Vaccines to Prevent Meningitis

Vaccines can prevent many of the diseases that could lead to meningitis. Most of these shots are routinely given to young children. The immunizations to prevent bacterial and viral meningitis include:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, which prevents infections that cause pneumonia, meningitis, and other problems. It's given to children between 2 months and  15 months old, and then to children over 5 years old or adults with certain medical conditions. While Hib used to be the most likely cause of bacterial meningitis in children under 5 years old, the vaccine has made it very rare.
  • Pneumococcal vaccines also protect against bacterial meningitis. There are two types. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely given to children under 2. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is recommended for all adults over 65. Some younger adults and children with a missing spleen, weakened immune systems, and certain chronic diseases may also need it.
  • MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, which is routinely given to children, protects against meningitis that can develop from measles and mumps.
  • Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and shingles vaccine target the varicella virus, which can potentially lead to viral meningitis.

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