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Vaccines Health Center

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Meningitis Vaccine and Adults: Expert Q&A

Who needs the meningitis vaccine and when.
By Scott Harris
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Meningitis is usually caused by an infection that attacks the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The most serious types of meningitis can result in brain damage or even death.

Most parents know children should be vaccinated against meningitis before they go to college, where the crowded, sometimes less-than-sanitary dorm life makes it easier to spread meningitis bacteria through respiratory and throat secretions.

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Young adults entering the military need the vaccine for the same reason. Certain other adults may need it, too.

William Schaffner, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a professor in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s infectious diseases division and chair of the school’s department of preventive medicine, discussed this vaccine with WebMD.

When do I need to get the meningitis vaccine, and how often?

“It is routine for children who go to the pediatrician at age 11 or 12 to receive this vaccine. When children get older and leave home, almost every college requires or strongly recommends that students be vaccinated before they come to campus.”

“At the moment, this is a one-dose immunization, but the CDC is now discussing whether children who receive the vaccine at 11 or 12 years old need a booster shot just before college. I recommend students and parents stay tuned for more info, which could be coming as soon as mid-2011.”

Which adults need this vaccine?

“It is very important for all college students, particularly those who are going to live in dorms. The dorms are where this can really spread.”

I’m not a college student. Do I still need this vaccine?

The meningitis vaccine “is also a good idea for travelers who go to certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the so-called meningitis belt,” Schaffner says. It’s also recommended for anyone with a damaged spleen, people whose spleen has been removed, people with terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder), anyone who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak, and microbiologists who routinely work with meningococcal bacteria.

Reviewed on January 19, 2011

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