Meningococcal Vaccines: What you need to know.
1. What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness, caused by a bacteria. It is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2 through 18 years old in the United States.
Meningitis is an infection of fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections.
About 2,600 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. 10 to 5 percent of these people die, in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Of those who live, another 11to19 percent lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become mentally retarded, or suffer seizures or strokes.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants less than one year of age and people with certain medical conditions, such as lack of a spleen. College freshmen who live in dormitories have an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin. Still, about 1 out of every ten people who get the disease dies from it, and many others are affected for life. This is why preventing the disease through use of meningococcal vaccine is important for people at highest risk.
2. Meningococcal vaccine
Two meningococcal vaccines are available in the U.S.:
Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (M.P.S.V.4 or Menomune) has been available since the 1970s.
Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (M.C.V.4 or Menactra) was licensed in 2005.
Both vaccines can prevent 4 types of meningococcal disease, including 2 of the 3 types most common in the United States and a type that causes epidemics in Africa. Meningococcal vaccines cannot prevent all types of the disease. But they do protect many people who might become sick if they didn’t get the vaccine.
Both vaccines work well, and protect about 90 percent of those who get it. Menactra is expected to give better, longer-lasting protection.
Menactra should also be better at preventing the disease from spreading from person to person.
3. Who should get meningococcal vaccine and when?
Menactra is recommended for all children at their routine preadolescent visit (11 to 12 years of age). For those who have never gotten Menactra previously, a dose is recommended at high school entry.
Other adolescents who want to decrease their risk of meningococcal disease can also get the vaccine.
Meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for other people at increased risk for meningococcal disease:
- College freshmen living in dormitories.
- Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria.
- U.S. military recruits.
- Anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as parts of Africa.
- Anyone who has a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed.
- Anyone who has terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder).
- People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.
Menactra is the preferred vaccine for people 11 to 55 years of age in these risk groups, but Menomune can be used if Menactra is not available. Menomune should be used for children 2 to 10 years old, and adults over 55, who are at risk.
How Many Doses?
People 2 years of age and older should get 1 dose. (Sometimes an additional dose is recommended for people who remain at high risk. Ask your provider.)
Menomune may be recommended for children 3 months to 2 years of age under special circumstances. These children should get 2 doses, 3 months apart.
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