Meningitis is a condition that involves the inflammation of the lining of the brain, also called the meninges. It may be caused by a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, which can develop into potentially fatal condition. Late diagnosis and treatment may result in permanent disability (such as hearing loss or brain damage), coma, or death. To prevent bacterial meningitis such as that associated with meningococcemia, experts recommend receiving a meningitis vaccine.
Meningococcemia or meningococcal disease is an infection caused by meningococcus bacteria. These bacteria spread by close or direct contact with someone who is infected. Early symptoms resemble a flu infection or a cold, but the disease becomes rapidly more severe, with symptoms like high fever, fatigue, headaches, stiff neck, and body aches. The infection spreads through the blood and can affect the brain meninges, resulting in meningitis.
To prevent meningococcal disease and meningitis, one should receive a meningitis vaccine, consisting of either a Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) or a Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), both offered in the US. Although the vaccine itself does not cause meningococcal infection, it can cause some adverse side effects which are often mild. However, in some people, side effects may be more severe.
Meningitis Vaccine Side Effects
People who receive vaccines may not experience any side effects at all. However, some notice that some pain with flushing and swelling on the site where the vaccine was injected. These side effects, which can last from one to three days, are common to most injectable drugs and vaccines.
Rarely, people may experience more serious adverse effects such as:
- hives, itching, redness of the skin
- rapid heartbeats
- breathing problems
- swollen face and throat
- difficulty in swallowing
- stomach cramps
- loss of consciousness
Immediate medical help is needed in these cases because one may be suffering from a severe, life threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
Meningococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (MPSV4)
MPSV4 protects a patient against four common variants of meningococcal microbes. The vaccine works by exposing the individual to a small amount of the microbes or a protein which comes from them. This exposure causes a bodily reaction by developing immunity to the infection. However, the vaccine does not treat an active meningococcal infection in an individual. Side Effects of MPSV4 include:
- Severe weakness which occurs 2 - 4 weeks post-vaccination
- Slight pain in the extremities
- High grade fever
- Slight fever and chills
- Pain, redness, and swelling around the site of injection
Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine (MCV4)
Just like the MPSV4, MCV4 provides immunity from the disease by the same principles. However, MCV4 is suitable for people aged nine months to fifty-five (55) years. It is especially recommended for those travelling to countries or are residing in places with high frequency of meningococcemia. Freshmen students are often required to receive a meningitis vaccine as they enter college especially if they plan to stay in dormitories. Side effects are more common with MCV4 than with MPSV4.
Possible Side Effects of MCV4 are listed as follow:
- Severe weakness in arms and legs which occurs 2 - 4 weeks after vaccination
- Mild pain in one's legs and arms
- High-grade fever
- Low-grade fever and chills
- Pain, redness, and swelling near the area of injection
- Mild skin rash
- Weakness and fatigue
- Brief fainting spells
- Guillain-Barré syndrome - includes neurological symptoms like muscle weakness and tingling or numbing sensations
People Who Should Receive Meningitis Vaccine
Individuals who are at high risk for being affected with meningococcal disease should receive the vaccine, and they include:
- Adults who are more than 60 years old
- College freshmen who live in dormitories
- Children younger than 5 years old
- People who are in the military
- Alcohol dependents
- Ranchers and farmers and ranchers who work with animals
- Workers in a meningococcal laboratory
- Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy
- People who use needles frequently for their condition such as those with diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, or use IV medications
- People with weak immune system such as AIDS patients, and those using immunosuppressant drugs
- People with autoimmune system disorders
- People whose spleens have been removed surgically
- People traveling to sub-Saharan Africa or to Mecca
- People who have been exposed in a meningitis outbreak
It should be noted that people who are 55 years old or younger should receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). But if it is not available, they may also have the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4). However, those who are older than 55 years should only have the MPSV4, which is the only approved meningococcal vaccine for this age group.
People Who Should NOT Receive Meningitis Vaccine
There are certain cases when people should avoid getting either type of meningitis vaccine because of the potential for serious adverse effects, and these include:
- Anyone who had a history of experiencing a severe sensitivity reaction to some drug or meningococcal vaccine
- Anyone who may be sensitive to certain vaccine components
- Anyone who is ill at the scheduled time for vaccination should wait until recovery before receiving the vaccine
- Anyone who has Guillain-Barre syndrome (a nerve disorder which can cause weakness and paralysis)
- Pregnant women
- People who are hypersensitive to diphtheria toxoid or to latex
How and When to Receive Meningitis Vaccine
The two forms of vaccines are administered differently. MCV4 is given as a single-dose injection to the muscle while the MPSV4 is administered under the skin.
The vaccines provide protection for at least 3 years. Most people need only one dose. However, people who remain at risk may need a second dose at least 5 years after the first shot.