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Health Education > Current Topics > Meningitis


Meningococcal Disease and Vaccination


Frequently Asked Questions
•  What is meningococcal disease and why is it so dangerous?
•  How is meningococcal disease spread?
•  Who is at risk for meningococcal disease?
•  What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?
•  Will vaccination eliminate the risk of meningococcal disease?
•  Can I get meningococcal disease from the vaccine?
•  Who should be vaccinated against meningococcal disease?
 

What is meningococcal disease and why is it so dangerous?

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection. It can cause meningitis - severe swelling of the brain and spinal cord. It can also lead to sepsis- a potentially life threatening infection of the blood.

Meningococcal disease is very dangerous because it often begins with symptoms that can be mistaken for influenza or another respiratory infection. But unlike more common infections, meningococcal disease can get worse very rapidly and it can kill an otherwise healthy young adult in as little as 24 to 48 hours. In fact, 10%, and in some cases as many as 23%, of those who develop meningococcal disease may die. Of those who survive, 11% to 19% will suffer from permanent disabilities, including amputations, scarring, hearing loss, and brain damage.

 

How is meningococcal disease spread?

The bacteria that causes Meningococcal disease (Neisseria meningitidis) can be spread from person to person by droplets that are released in the air through coughing. It can also be spread by kissing or sharing a glass or eating utensils.

 

Who is at risk for meningococcal disease?

Although anyone can get meningococcal disease, the risk for getting  this disease is higher for college students living on campus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), college freshmen living in dormitories have a 6-times greater chance of getting meningococcal disease compared with other college students. Students who smoke, drink, or spend time in crowded bars on or near campus are also at higher risk.

 

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

The early symptoms of meningococcal disease are similar to influenza. Many people complain of having a headache, fever, stiff neck, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. SOme people also develop a purplish red-black rash of small dots (petechaie), mainly on their arms and legs., Remember, meningococcal disease can get worse very quickly, so recognizing the characteristic signs and symptoms of the disease is critical and potentially lifesaving.

 

Will vaccination eliminate the risk of meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal vaccination can greatly reduce your risk of infection, but it will not completely eliminate it., The vaccine helps to protect against the strains of bacteria ( N meningitidis A, C, Y, and W-135) that cause 68% to 83% of meningococcal disease in college-aged people. In the US military, meningococcal vaccination has been mandatory since the 1970s, and it has been associated with a 94% reduction in meningococcal disease among new recruits. Be aware, however, that the meningococcal vaccine does not protect against infection caused by strains other than A, C, Y, and W-135, and that no vaccine is guaranteed to protect 100% of susceptible individuals.

 

Can I get meningococcal disease from the vaccine?

No. The vaccine does not contain any live bacteria-- so it is impossible to get meningococcal disease from the vaccination. Additionally, the meningococcal vaccine is very well tolerated. The most common reactions after vaccination are mild ones, such as  soreness or redness at the injection site for 1 or 2 days. A very small number of people may also experience headache, body aches, chills, and fever. Vaccination should be avoided by persons with known hypersensitivity to any component of the vaccine., As with most vaccines, immunization should be delayed if you have any acute illness.

 

Who should be vaccinated against meningococcal disease?

College students, particularly freshmen living in dormitories, should consider vaccination to reduce their risk of getting meningococcal disease. This recommendation is supported by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the American College Health Association (ACHA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

In addition, 14 states have enacted legislation mandating distribution of information to students and their parents about the dangers of meningococcal disease and the availability of the meningococcal vaccine. In 6 of these states, vaccination is required for in coming students who are planning to live on campus, unless they sign a waiver stating that they are aware of the risk and do not wish to be vaccinated.
Information provided as a service by Aventis Pasteur Inc.
 

 

 

 

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February 7, 2011