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Meningococcal Vaccine for Adults

The meningococcal vaccine protects against four types of meningococcal bacteria -- germs that cause meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease can affect the lining around the brain or spinal cord (meningitis). Or, it can cause a blood infection (meningococcal bacteremia), pneumonia, or other problems. One in 10 infected people die from meningococcal disease. Those who survive may have lasting disabilities such as hearing loss or brain damage. That's why the meningococcal vaccine is so important for those who are at risk.

You can catch meningococcal infection through close, direct contact with someone who has the bacteria in his or her throat or nose. Early symptoms of meningitis or blood infection may be confused with the flu or a cold, but symptoms can rapidly become more severe and include:

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  • Sudden high fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Aches
  • Fatigue
  • Purplish rash on arms and legs
  • Other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and changes in mental state


Which adults should receive the meningococcal vaccine?

The CDC recommends you have the meningococcal vaccine if you:

  • Live in a dorm
  • Work with meningococcal bacteria in a lab
  • Are in the military
  • Are traveling to or living in a country where meningococcal disease is common, such as in certain parts of Africa
  • Have a damaged or missing spleen, or an immune system disorder called terminal complement deficiency

If you are age 55 or younger, you should have the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). If it is not available, you can also have the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4).

If you are age 56 or older, you should have the MPSV4, the only approved type for this age group.


Are there any adults who should not get the meningococcal vaccine?

You should not have either type of meningococcal vaccine if you:

You should not have the MCV4 if you:

  • Have previously had Guillain-Barré syndrome -- a nerve disorder that can cause muscle weakness and paralysis
  • Are hypersensitive to latex or diphtheria toxoid

In these cases or if you are pregnant, ask your doctor whether or not the MPSV4 may be a safe choice for you.


How and when should you receive the meningococcal vaccine?

You receive the MCV4 as a single dose, injected into a muscle. You receive the MPSV4 as a single dose injected under the skin.

Protection lasts for at least three years. In most cases, only one dose is needed. However, if you remain at risk, you can have a second dose at least five years after the first.

Are there any dangers or side effects associated with the meningococcal vaccine?

First, it's important to know that the meningococcal vaccination cannot cause the meningococcal disease.

If you do have a reaction to the meningococcal shot, it will most likely be a mild one. Side effects may include:

  • Mild pain and redness at the injection site
  • Temporary fever

In very rare cases, a meningococcal vaccine may cause a severe allergic reaction. Signs of this reaction may include:

  • Hoarseness, wheezing, trouble breathing, or swallowing
  • Hives, itching, skin warmth, or redness
  • Paleness
  • Stomach cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Anxiety or headache
  • Weakness, dizziness, light-headedness, or loss of consciousness

People have reported developing Guillain-Barré syndrome after having the MCV4. This may lead to neurological symptoms such as a tingling or numbing sensation, and muscle weakness.

If you have any signs of a severe reaction:

  • Call the doctor or get to a doctor right away.
  • Describe when you had the vaccine and what occurred.
  • Have a health care professional report the reaction.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 21, 2013

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