How To Protect Yourself Against Meningitis, A Very Serious Disease

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Meningococcal disease: a very dangerous form of meningitis

Meningitis is a very serious, possibly fatal, disease. Several different bacteria can cause meningitis but one very virulent strain, meningococcal disease, is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. This strain of meningitis could lead to an infection of the blood or lining of the brain and spinal cord.

Mason Gomberg-001R WEB72

Mason Gomberg, MD

Meningococcal disease can manifest itself very rapidly in otherwise normal healthy people. It can be spread without warning between two individuals through close contact (coughing, runny noses or kissing) or through groups living in close contact (bunks at sleep away camps, the military or college dorms). Even with early diagnosis and treatment, there is a 15-20% death rate and a 25-30% disability rate (hearing loss, brain damage and limb amputations) from meningococcal disease.

There are at least 12 types of meningococcal bacteria called “serogroups”

The most common  serogroups are type A, C, W, Y and B. Until recently, there was only one meningococcal vaccine that helped protect against the first four serogroups. Recently, the FDA has approved the licensing of two vaccines to help prevent the type B disease: Trumemba and Bexsero.

  1. Bexsero  is a 2-dose series given at least one month apart.
  2. Trumemba is a 2- or 3-dose series. The number of doses that is right for you is up to your doctor. The 2-dose series is given six months apart. The 3-dose series is given 2 and 6 months apart. If you are planning to spend an extended period of time outside the United States, please tell your doctor so he/she may suggest the best possible vaccine.

Both vaccines are strongly recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) for individuals 10 years or older whose spleen is damaged or removed, have certain rare immune deficiencies, or who work in a lab with the bacteria and are therefore at risk for serogroup B disease outbreak (on college campuses). These two vaccines are also recommended for young people 16-23 years old who require short term protection (i.e., living or enrolling in college) against certain strains of serogroup B disease in the United States.

It is a good idea to get one of these vaccines prior to attending college

Both are generally safe; major side effects are fever, malaise and soreness at the site of injection.

Even though serogroup meningococcal B disease is extremely rare (approximately 50 cases per year in the USA), it is a very dangerous disease. These two licensed vaccines provide some added protection against this disease. They are not 100% protective (nor is any other vaccine). One recent study showed increased antibody titers in around 70% of vaccinated college students. The vaccination program did stop the spread of the disease on one college campus. Professional opinions have concluded that any increased rate of protection against such a deadly and devastating disease is worth strong consideration for its implementation.

By Mason Gomberg, MD, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball