Student Health – Meningococcal Vaccines: What You Need to Know

1. What is meningococcal disease?

Meningitis is an infection of fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. Meningococcal disease is a serious illness, caused by a bacterium and is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children ages 2 through 18 in the United States. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections. Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but it is most common in infants less than one year old 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 10 people who get the disease dies from it, and many others are affected for life. This is why the meningococcal vaccine is very important for people at highest risk.

2. Meningococcal vaccine

Meningococcal vaccines cannot prevent all types of this disease, but they do protect many people who might become ill if they did not get the vaccine. Two meningococcal vaccines are available in the U.S. 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.

3. Who should get meningococcal vaccine and when?

Either the M.C.V.4 or the M.P.S.V.4 is recommended for all children at their routine preadolescent visit (11 to 12 years of age). For those who have never gotten M.C.V.4 or M.P.S.V.4, a dose is recommended at high school entry. Other adolescents who want to decrease their risk of meningococcal disease can also get the vaccine, which include college freshmen living in dormitories.

4. What are the risks from meningococcal vaccine?

A vaccine, like any medicine, can possibly cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of meningococcal vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.

Mild problems: Up to about half of people who get meningococcal vaccines have mild side effects, such as redness or pain where the shot was given. If these problems do occur, they usually last for 1 or 2 days and are more common after M.C.V.4 than after M.P.S.V.4. A small percentage of people who receive the vaccine develop a fever.

Severe problems: Serious allergic reactions, within a few minutes to a few hours of the shot, are very rare.

5. Who should I talk to about the vaccine?

Contact your family doctor or your County Health Department.

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