What is Meningitis?
Meningitis (Meningococcal disease) is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord and may be caused by by a variety of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, environmental toxins like heavy metals and reactions to medications. Meningitis case fatality rates have been as high as 50% in endemic countries although now they hover between 10%-15%. Regardless, serious permanent side effects like deafness, mental retardation and amputation of limbs occur in 11%-19% of survivors. Although bacterial and fungal meningitis require extended hospitalization, viral meningitis is typically less severe and clears up without specific treatment.
How do you Get Meningitis?
Transmission occurs by air droplet, kissing, sharing of items, utensils that may have been infected and nasal secretions.
Meningitis symptoms include high fever, headache and stiff neck in anyone over the age of 2 years. Other symptoms may include vomiting, nausea, confusion, sleepiness and discomfort looking into bright lights. In small infants and newborns, headache, fever and neck stiffness may be difficult to detect or completely absent. Infants with meningitis may be feeding poorly, be irritable, appear slow or inactive and have vomiting episodes. These symptoms can develop within hours or they may take 1 to 2 days. As the disease progresses, patients of any age may have seizures.
Where to Get Meningitis Vaccine?
There are two meningococcal vaccinations available in the U.S.
- Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4)
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4)
The meningitis vaccines are available at all Passport Health travel clinic locations.
Who Should Get Meningitis Vaccine?
Those ages 16 through 21 years have the highest rates of meningococcal disease. Thus, the CDC recommends vaccination for this group. According to the CDC “all 11-12 years olds should be vaccinated with meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). A booster dose should be given at age 16 years. For adolescents who receive the first dose at age 13 through 15 years, a one-time booster dose should be administered, preferably at age 16 through 18 years.” For those attending college, the CDC recommends that a booster dose. The meningitis vaccination is required to attend many colleges. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) suggests that teens receive the vaccine less than 5 years before starting school.
Adults with the following risk factors risk factors which should get either the MPSV4 vaccine or the MCV4 vaccine:
- Military recruits
- College freshmen living in a dormitory
- People with a damaged spleen or a spleen that has been removed
- Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to Neisseria meningitidis (the bacterial pathogen)
- People with a terminal complement deficiency
- People who have had close or prolonged contact with a patient with meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis
- People who are traveling or to areas where the dissease is common
- People who reside in countries in which the disease is common or endemic
An outbreak of group W-135 meningococcal disease occurred in the year 2000 associated with the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and caused the Saudi Arabian government to mandate that all travelers receive the Meningitis vaccine prior to pilgrimages to Mecca.
Since meningitis is recurrent throughout the sub-Saharan Meningitis Belt, which extends from Senegal to Ethiopia, travelers visiting the region during the dry season are advised to receive the meningitis vaccine especially if prolonged contact with the local population is likely. Thus, meningitis vaccine is recommended for travelers going to countries in the meningitis belt: Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Fasso, Ghana, Parts of Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Sudan, Ethiopia, Parts of Kenya, Parts of Uganda and parts of Eritrea.
Source: CDC Vaccine Information Statement (VIS): Meningitis
So, if you are asking yourself, “What travel shots and vaccinations do I need?” or “Where do I get the Meningitis Vaccine?” call 888-499-PASS (7277) or find the Passport Health travel medicine clinic nearest you.
You can also learn more about diseases and vaccines that may impact your trip.