How to Prevent Meningitis

Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 24, 2024
3 min read

Meningococcal meningitis is a serious disease that causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. There's a lot you can do to protect yourself and your family from meningitis. A combination of vaccines and commonsense steps like washing hands can cut the odds that you'll catch the disease.

 You can prevent it by getting the meningococcal vaccine. There are three types:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4): Menactra (MenACWY-DT) and Menveo (MenACWY-CRM),  MenQuadfi
  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4): Menomune
  • Serogroup B Meningococcal B: Trumenba (MenB-FHbp) and Bexsero (MenB-4C)

MCV4 and MPSV4 can prevent 70% of the types of meningococcal disease. Both work in nine out of 10 people. 

Doctors recommend that kids get a shot of MCV4 at age 11 or 12. The Serogroup B shot is given at 16.

Other people at risk should also consider getting a vaccine, including:

  • Those who think they've been in contact with people who have meningococcal meningitis
  • First-year college students living in dorms
  • Military recruits
  • Travelers to areas of the world, such as Africa, where meningococcal disease is common
  • People with a damaged spleen or with an immune system disorder called terminal complement component deficiency
  • Workers in labs who are often in contact with meningococcal bacteria

If you're very ill at the time you are scheduled to get a shot, wait until you're better. Avoid the vaccine if you:

  • Had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose
  • Have a severe allergy to any vaccine ingredient

You may get mild pain or redness at the spot where you get the shot. Call your doctor right away if you have a strong reaction to the vaccine, such as a high fever, weakness, or signs of an allergic reaction, such as trouble breathing, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness.

Vaccines can prevent many of the diseases that could lead to meningitis. Most of these shots are routinely given to young children. Some of these include:

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine. It prevents infections that cause pneumonia, meningitis, and other problems. Kids get it when they're between 2 months and 15 months old. It's also given to children over age 5 or adults with certain medical conditions. While Hib used to be the most likely cause of bacterial meningitis in children under age 5, the vaccine has made it very rare.

Pneumococcal vaccines. They protect against bacterial meningitis. There are two types. Doctors give the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to children under age 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 long-term diseases may also need it.

MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. Children need it to protect them from meningitis that can develop from measles and mumps.

Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and shingles vaccine. They target the varicella virus, which can potentially lead to viral meningitis.

Besides vaccines, follow some simple steps to keep meningitis away from you and your family. Be careful around people who have meningitis. It's possible to spread the disease by kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing utensils or toothbrushes.

If someone in your family has a contagious type of meningitis, try to limit contact with the infected person. Wash your hands often with soap and water.

If you come into close contact with someone with meningitis, call your doctor. Depending on the type of meningitis, they may suggest you take an antibiotic as a precaution.