Meningitis occurs when the lining of your brain and spinal cord becomes inflamed. Since meningitis can lead to serious health complications, especially in young children, vaccination is an important step in preventing infection. Depending upon the type of meningitis vaccination that you or your child receives, immunity typically lasts for at least three years.
There are two main types of meningitis: viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. Most cases of meningitis arise from a viral infection and are usually mild, typically having flu-like symptoms that resolve within two weeks with rest and fluids. However, some cases of meningitis are caused by bacterial infections; bacterial meningitis is a serious health condition that may result in neurological damage or even death if not treated. There are several meningitis vaccinations that provide protection against certain types of bacterial meningitis.
The Hib vaccination provides protection against meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), an infection most common in children under the age of 5 years. This vaccine is usually administered in three or four doses during the first year of your child’s life (2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12 months). During a two-week period after the first dose of this vaccine, your child will not have protection from Hib disease. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the lack of breakthrough Hib disease (Hib infection occurring in children who have been completely vaccinated) indicates that this vaccination provides at least 15 years of immunity.
Two types of meningococcal vaccinations provide protection against the bacteria (Neisseria meningitidis) that causes meningococcal meningitis: meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4), and meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). The CDC recommends the MCV4 vaccination (licensed in 2005) for use in children and teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 years, as well as at-risk individuals between the ages of 2 and 55 years. MPSV4 is the only meningococcal vaccination that can be used for people over the age of 55 years. According to the Student Health Department at Huntington College, more than 90 percent of adults receiving the meningococcal vaccination develop immunity to meningococcus disease, with protection lasting for minimally three to five years.
The pneumococcal vaccination provides protection against Streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacteria that cause many cases of meningitis in children under the age of 5 years. There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines: the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) is used for all children under the age of 5 years, and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) provides protection for adults and certain children with risk factors of developing the disease. According to the National Network for Immunization Information (NNII), this vaccination provides protection for three to five years following immunization.
If you want to maximize the protection you’ll obtain from a meningitis vaccination, be sure that you or your child receives all required doses on schedule. Although these vaccinations reduce your chances of developing meningitis from these bacteria, they do not completely eliminate your chances of developing meningitis. Prevention methods, such as frequent hand washing, avoiding sharing personal items with others and covering your mouth when coughing, are also important steps to take in reducing your chances of developing bacterial and viral meningitis.