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Meningococcal Vaccine for Adults

The meningococcal vaccine protects you from four types of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. This illness can cause meningitis, an infection of the lining around the brain or spinal cord. It can also cause a blood infection (meningococcal bacteremia), pneumonia, and other problems. Ten percent to 15% of people who are infected with the disease die from it, even if they were treated with antibiotics. As many as 20% of those who survive may have lasting problems such as hearing loss, brain damage, seizures, or loss of limbs.

Because this illness is serious, it's important you get vaccinated if you are at risk.

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

  • 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 get the vaccine if you are an adult and:

  • Are living in a dorm as a first-year college student
  • 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 spleen, or it's been removed
  • Have an immune system disorder called terminal complement deficiency
  • May have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak

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 vaccine for this age group.

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

You shouldn't have either type of meningococcal vaccine if you:

  • Are moderately or seriously ill. Wait until you recover.
  • Have had a serious allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis) to a previous dose
  • Had a severe reaction to any part of the vaccine

If you are pregnant or have other concerns, ask your doctor which meningitis vaccine is right 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.

In most cases, adults only need one dose. But if you remain at risk, you may need a booster.

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

Neither vaccine can cause meningococcal disease.

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

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

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

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

If you have any signs of a severe reaction:

  • Call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.
  • Describe when you had the vaccine and what happened.
  • Have a health care professional report the reaction.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 12, 2014

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