Meningococcal infection is uncommon; however, it can cause serious illness in healthy adolescents and young adults. Below are answers to common questions about meningococcal disease and how it can be prevented through routine vaccination.
Meningococcal infection is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. It is airborne so can spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing, living in close quarters, sharing drinks/food, or kissing. Neisseria bacteria can cause meningitis, meningococcemia, or both.
Meningococcal disease can be a life-threatening illness if not treated immediately. Prompt hospitalization and treatment with strong antibiotics is lifesaving. This type of infection progresses quickly, often within 24 hours. Initial symptoms often look like the flu with fever, headache, muscles aches, and stiff neck. Some patients will develop nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or confusion. This bacterium causes a unique rash with dark purple spots on the torso, arms, or legs.
Serious consequences, including death in up to 15% of infections, may occur within hours. Even with early treatment, 1 in 5 people who survive have permanent disabilities. These complications include hearing loss, brain injury, loss of fingers or toes, and scarring of the skin.
Fortunately, two meningococcal vaccines, Men ACWY and Men B, are available and protect against different types of meningococcal bacteria.
Talk to your pediatric provider if you have any questions about the best timing to protect your teen. Many colleges require proof of MenACWY vaccination within 5 years before starting school. More colleges are now requiring MenB vaccination as well.
The Men B vaccine is effective at preventing serious infection. Greater than 80% of adolescents and young adults have strong antibody responses following the 2-dose series. Antibody levels do decline a year or two following vaccination, however protection is still provided during the years with highest risk of infection. Additional booster doses are not recommended at this time.
Men B vaccine is safe and may be given at the same time as Men ACWY and any other routine vaccinations. Common reactions to the vaccine are minimal and include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and joint aches.
Currently, both Men ACWY and Men B vaccines for all patients 18 years and younger in the state of Washington are covered—either by their insurance or by the Vaccines for Children program. Allegro clinics stock supply from the Vaccines for Children program. If your young adult is over the age of 18, you will need to get Men B vaccine at a pharmacy. Please check with your insurance company to see if it is covered.
Dr. Steve Schiebel is a pediatrician and the Chief Medical Information Officer at Allegro Pediatrics.