Protect Yourself with Meningococcal or Meningitis Vaccine!

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. People sometimes refer to it as spinal meningitis. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Knowing whether meningitis is caused by a virus or bacterium is important because the severity of illness and the treatment differ depending on the cause.
Viral meningitis is generally less severe and clears up without specific treatment. But bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in loss of limbs, brain damage, kidney failure, hearing loss, learning disabilities or death.
Before the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Hib vaccine is now given to all children as part of their routine immunizations. This vaccine has reduced the number of cases of Hib infection and the number of related meningitis cases. Today, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis or Meningococcal meningitidis are the leading causes of bacterial meningitis. Other, rarer causes of meningitis include fungi, parasites, and non-infectious causes, including those that are related to drugs.

What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

High fever, headache, and stiff neck are common symptoms of meningitis in anyone over the age of 2 years. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to detect. Infants with meningitis may appear slow or inactive, have vomiting, be irritable, or be feeding poorly. As the disease progresses, patients of any age may have seizures. Symptoms can appear quickly or they can also take several days to appear, usually after a cold or runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting, or other signs of infection show up. Symptoms in adults may differ from those in children:

Is bacterial meningitis contagious?

Yes, some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria can mainly be spread from person to person through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. This can occur through coughing, kissing, sneezing, sharing eating or drinking utensils, lip gloss or cigarettes. Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as things like the common cold or the flu.

However, sometimes the bacteria that cause meningitis have spread to other people who have had close or prolonged contact, such as in a classroom or dormitory with a patient with meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcal meningitis) or Hib. People in the same household or daycare center or anyone with direct contact with a patient's oral secretions (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend) would be considered at increased risk of getting the infection. People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningitis caused by N. meningitidis should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.

Are there vaccines against bacterial meningitis?

Yes, there are vaccines against Hib, against some serogroups of N. meningitidis and many types of Streptococcus pneumoniae. The vaccines are safe and highly effective.

Meningococcal vaccines protect against most types of meningococcal disease, but they do not prevent all cases. There are two vaccines against Neisseria meningitidis available in the United States: meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4 or Menomune®) and meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4 or Menactra®).

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends routine vaccination of all persons aged 11-18 years of age with 1 dose of MCV4, the meningococcal conjugate vaccine known as Menactra®, at the earliest opportunity. Pre-teens who are 11-12 years old should be routinely vaccinated at the 11-12 year old check-up as recommended by ACIP or as soon thereafter as possible.

College freshmen living in dormitories are at increased risk for meningococcal disease and should be vaccinated with MCV4 before college entry if they have not previously been vaccinated. Since the vaccines are safe and produce immunity, they can be provided to non-freshmen college students and anyone else who want to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease. MPSV4, the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine known as Menomune®, is recommended among adults over 55 years of age.

Anyone who is traveling to certain countries outside of the U.S. may need to take the meningitis vaccine. Meningococcal vaccination is required by the government of Saudi Arabia for annual travel during the Hajj. If you are traveling outside of the U.S , visit for more specific information related to meningitis vaccine and other information you need before you travel.
There are also vaccines to prevent meningitis due to S. pneumoniae (also called pneumococcal meningitis), which can also prevent other forms of infection due to S. pneumoniae. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV23), on the market as Pneumovax-23, is recommended for all persons over 65 years of age and younger persons at least 2 years old with certain chronic medical problems. There is a vaccine (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, or PCV7), on the market as Prevnar, that is effective in infants for the prevention of pneumococcal infections and is routinely recommended for all children younger than 2 years of age. (Please refer to the Pneumococcal or Pneumonia Vaccine information page.)

What causes viral meningitis?

Different viral infections can lead to viral meningitis. But most cases in the United States, particularly during the summer and fall months, are caused by enteroviruses (which include enteroviruses, coxsackieviruses, and echoviruses). Most people who are infected with enteroviruses either have no symptoms or only get a cold, rash, or mouth sores with low-grade fever. And, only a small number of people with enterovirus infections develop meningitis.

Other viral infections that can lead to meningitis include mumps, herpes virus (such as Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex viruses, and varicella-zoster virus”the cause of chickenpox and shingles), measles, and influenza.

Arboviruses, which mosquitoes and other insects spread, can also cause infections that can lead to viral meningitis. And lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which is spread by rodents, is a rare cause of viral meningitis.

Are there vaccines against viral meningitis?

Receiving vaccinations included in the childhood vaccination schedule can protect children against some diseases that can lead to viral meningitis. These include vaccines against measles and mumps (the MMR vaccine) and chickenpox (the varicella-zoster vaccine). (Visit for more information on these specific vaccines.)

Most of the above information was taken from   

For more specific information about meningococcal meningitis vaccines, refer to the Meningococcal Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) found at .