Your brain and spinal cord have protective membranes called meninges. When these are inflamed, or swollen, the condition is called meningitis.
Meningitis is caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. Viral meningitis is the most common type, but bacterial meningitis is the most serious. Bacterial meningitis can cause severe problems, including loss of arms or legs, brain damage, stroke, paralysis and hearing loss. It can also cause death.
Bacterial meningitis spreads through personal contact. It is especially a problem in places where many people live close together, such as dormitories.
Vaccines can help prevent certain types of bacterial meningitis.
What is a meningitis vaccine?
There are vaccines that help prevent three types of bacterial meningitis:
- Meningococcal meningitis
- Pneumococcal meningitis
- Hib meningitis
There are different versions of these vaccines. A healthcare provider can help determine which ones you need.
Who should get a meningitis vaccine?
Adolescents are most at risk for bacterial meningitis. A meningitis vaccine is recommended for everyone ages 11 to 18, with a booster shot at 16. A second vaccine that protects against additional bacteria is recommended between 16 and 23. The Hib vaccine is also recommended for all children younger than age 5.
Vaccines are also recommended for individuals at increased risk for meningitis:
- U.S. military recruits
- First-year college students living in dormitories
- Anyone who has come in contact with someone with meningitis
- Anyone with a spleen that has been damaged or removed
- Anyone with a weakened immune system
- Anyone living in or visiting a country where meningitis is common
Certain people should not get a meningitis vaccine:
- Anyone who has had a severe reaction to a past meningitis vaccine
- Anyone who has had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves
- Pregnant women
Consult a healthcare provider for recommendations specific to you or your child.
What are the side effects of a meningitis vaccine?
Certain meningitis vaccines can cause mild side effects, including soreness at the site of the shot, tiredness, headaches, muscle pain, fever, nausea or diarrhea.
Any vaccine carries a very small risk of severe allergic reaction. Go to the ER if you experience difficulty breathing, dizziness, or swelling in the face.