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What is a Meningitis Vaccine?

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  • Written By: Matt Brady
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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The meningitis vaccine is a vaccination that decreases one's chances of contracting bacterial meningitis. Meningitis is an infection that affects the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord. It is often viral, but can be bacterial as well. The meningitis vaccine only protects against bacterial strains. The vaccine is especially recommended for ages 11 to 18, and beyond that for students living in college dormitories, as meningitis spreads more easily in close quarters. Two types of vaccines are available to prevent meningitis: Menomune and Menactra. Like flu vaccines, meningitis vaccines can't protect against all bacterial strains, but they do protect against the most common strains.

Bacterial meningitis is a serious disease that has been known to kill otherwise healthy individuals. It can be contracted by itself or as the result of some other illness, such as strep throat or pneumonia. Those who survive the illness often have permanent lasting effects, such as mental and physical disabilities. In spite of the way meningitis severely reacts with some, others are able to make a full recovery. Initial symptoms include a stiff neck, fever and headache. As it progresses, symptoms of vomiting, nausea, drowsiness and sensitivity to light may also manifest. If symptoms appear, it's critical to seek out hospital treatment immediately. Viral meningitis is much milder than its bacterial cousin, and usually resolves itself without need of serious treatment.

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The first meningitis vaccine became commonplace in 1981, with the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine, otherwise known as Menomune or M.P.S.V.4. Menomune significantly reduced cases of bacterial meningitis throughout the world. It especially impacted the spread of Hib disease, which was at one time the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in young age groups. Today, Hib vaccinations are recommended for all children under the ages of five. In 2005, a second meningitis vaccine was introduced, called Menactra, or M.C.V.4. Menactra is approved for ages 11 to 55. Today, most people who receive the meningitis vaccine are likely to get both Menomune and Menactra. Menomune is preferred for the ages of 2-10 and 55 and older, while Menactra is used for the ages between those ranges.

Meningitis tends to occur in small outbreaks, such as amongst a sporting team, school class or dormitory floor. If an outbreak occurs, people can prevent their likelihood of contracting the bacteria by not sharing food or drinks with others and washing their hands frequently. Bacterial meningitis is spread through the respiratory system, so sharing any saliva, or standing around individuals with a cough or sneeze can greatly increase the odds of contracting the disease.

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