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What Is a Meningitis Prophylaxis?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 July 2014
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Meningitis can be a very serious disease that affects the brain and the spinal cord. It causes inflammation of the meninges, which are membranes that cover parts of the brain and spinal cord, and the illness, in some instances, is deadly. What makes it confusing is that this inflammation may occur due to viral or bacterial infection of different types, and thus when treatment or meningitis prophylaxis is discussed, this doesn’t always mean the same thing. Actually there are several forms of meningitis prophylaxis that can be mentioned, and the two main ones are treating by vaccination or treating after exposure.

A few vaccinations are considered meningitis prophylaxis because they target the viruses or bacteria responsible for the illness, and they can create immunity to some illnesses that can potentially develop into meningitis. One vaccine given earlier in life is Haemophilus influenzae b (Hib). Children under the age of five are most vulnerable to the effects of Hib, but the vaccine may not be necessary in older kids because there are fewer incidences of complications from infection in later life.

Another type of meningitis prophylaxis vaccine is called the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against a different bacterium that can cause meningitis. There are several versions of this vaccine available. Recommendation from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are that all children and all adults 65 and over receive this shot for protection.

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One of the more severe forms of meningitis is meningococcal meningitis and this is the type often associated with appearance of symptoms one day, like high fever, headache and sore neck, and quick deterioration by the next day. This form of the illness is readily fatal or it can cause permanent brain damage. People can choose meningitis prophylaxis with meningococcal vaccinations that, again, may come in a couple of forms. Usually children get a first dose when they’re about 11, since that seems to be the age when this disease starts to be more readily contracted.

The other kind of meningitis prophylaxis occurs after people have been exposed to a strain of meningitis and this may only work when the illness is of bacterial origin. In instances where the illness is viral, it doesn’t necessarily mean another person will get meningitis, though he might contract the virus that causes inflamed meninges. In most cases, after exposure prophylaxis is considered for people at close contact with someone with bacterial meningitis. This could mean being in the same classroom, in the same home or living situation, or in other circumstances where contact has been close, like in a boyfriend and girlfriend scenario.

When this occurs, doctors may opt for meningitis prophylaxis by prescribing antibiotics that could kill the accumulation of bacteria that could cause the illness. This frequently prevents other people from contracting it. It’s not that common for meningitis to readily spread, but it’s also not advised that people ignore prophylaxis benefits, since the disease can be devastating.

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