Meningococcal Meningitis Vaccine

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Parents need to know about the Meningococcal Meningitis vaccine



Parents should be better educated about the potentially fatal disease Meningococcal Meningitis, and the vaccine that helps prevent it, according to experts.

They say that although the risk of contracting the disease is low-and the odds of dying even lower, parents should at least be aware they have the option of vaccinating their children against it.

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing symptoms such as high fever, headache and neck stiffness. It is usually caused by a bacterial or a viral infection, with bacterial meningitis being far more dangerous than viral meningitis.

Meningococcal meningitis infection is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis among children and young adults in the United States. Symptoms come on suddenly, and in fatal cases, patients may die within hours of the first signs of infection. The disease can also cause long-term complications such as brain damage and hearing loss.

Still, only 2,200-3,000 cases of meningococcal meningitis occur in the U.S. each year, about 10 percent of which are fatal. Anyone can get meningococcal meningitis. But it is most common in infants less than 1 year of age, and in people with certain medical conditions. Unfortunately, the vaccine is ineffective in children younger than 2. College freshmen, particularly those who live in dormitories, have a slightly increased risk of getting meningoccal disease.

Many parents may decide to pay for the $80 meningitis vaccine even though the disease is relatively rare. Insurance plans may not cover the cost, since the vaccine is not routine.

In recent years, health experts have recommended that freshmen entering college, especially those who will live in dorms, be told of the risk of meningococcal meningitis and the benefits of vaccination. Meningitis outbreaks can occur when a large number of people live in such close quarters; military recruits are routinely given the meningococcal meningitis vaccine.

Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the co-author of an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, said awareness should spread further, and that all parents should know about the disease, the risk of their child getting it, and the availability of a vaccine. He suggests that both doctors and schools can get this information to families.

Parents may want to consider vaccinating their child around the age of 10.

A disadvantage of this is that a booster shot is needed every few years. However, a new meningoccal vaccine that does not require boosters is expected to enter the U.S. market in 2005. In addition, it is hoped that this vaccine will be effective for babies and toddlers.

In a statement, the National Meningitis Association, an advocacy group made up of parents of children who died or suffered complications of meningitis, agreed on the need for greater vaccine awareness.

The decision to vaccinate could save lives and prevent the devastating consequences that many families have faced.

This article was originally published December 22, 2003 in The St. Tammany News.

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