The brain and spinal cord are covered by a group of membranes called the meninges. The meninges keep the delicate tissues of the brain and spinal cord safe, but if the meninges becomes inflamed, they can damage the tissues they're supposed to protect. This inflammation is called meningitis, and it can be life threatening. Fortunately, a vaccine is now available for this serious disease. Here's what parents need to know about it.
What causes meningitis?
Meningitis is usually caused by an infection, either from viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Bacterial infections lead to the most dangerous type of meningitis, bacterial meningitis. The bacteria strains that are usually responsible for meningitis are pneumococcus, meningococcus, haemophilus, and listeria. Since it's the most dangerous, bacterial meningitis is the type that is covered by the meningitis vaccine.
How serious is meningitis?
Bacterial meningitis usually starts with a severe headache and a stiff neck, but it can quickly get much worse than that. The infection that led to meningitis can spread to the blood, causing sepsis, a life-threatening complication. Meningitis can also lead to the formation of blood clots, which blocks the flow of blood to the organs or to the limbs. This can cause organ failure or gangrene of the limbs. Bacterial meningitis is usually fatal without treatment, and even with treatment, it's frequently fatal, killing between 19% and 37% of people who develop it.
When should children get the vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting your child vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 12. A booster shot should be given when your child is 16 years old. Children are vaccinated at this time because most people who get bacterial meningitis are 16 to 21 years old.
How effective is the vaccine?
The vaccine is effective against the common types of bacteria that cause meningitis, but it doesn't last forever. Current data shows that its protection starts to wear off about 5 years after the last dose. This will protect your child through the most high risk ages for contracting bacterial meningitis.
Does the vaccine have any side effects?
Like all vaccines, the meningitis vaccine can cause side effects, but usually these are limited to minor problems like redness and swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, more serious symptoms like an allergic reaction can occur.
Bacterial meningitis is a very serious disease, but you can reduce your child's risk of contracting it by getting them vaccinated. Talk to a child's doctor (such as one from The Pediatric Center) about this vaccine as soon as possible.