I wanted to write about meningitis because with the newest vaccine against meningitis, I am concerned that parents don't recognize what exactly their children are protected against and what risks remain after vaccination. I will break down meningitis by type of organism causing the inflammation, and include any vaccines and treatments available for that type within that grouping.
|Photo by Mikael Häggström|
The type of bacteria causing meningitis varies by age group. Fortunately the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as things we more commonly see, such as the common cold, but whenever there's a case of bacterial meningitis the health department will identify risks and help treat contacts at risk. The bacteria don't always lead to meningitis, but may be found in healthy people or cause other types of infections as well, such as ear infections, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections.
- Newborns tend to be infected with bacteria that can be a part of the mother's urogenital tract. Group B Streptoccous (GBS), Escherichia coli, and Listeria monocytogenes are most common. Pregnant women are screened for GBS and treated with antibiotics prior to delivery if possible. Pregnant women should handle foods properly and avoid certain foods to protect against Listeria.
- Infants and children are most at risk from Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcal), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Thankfully starting at two months of age infants can get vaccines against Hib since 1985. A vaccine against 7 strains of pneumococcus became available in the year 2000, and it was improved to protect against 13 strains of pneumococcus since 2010. There are over 90 known strains of pneumococcus, but the vaccine covers the majority of strains that cause severe illnesses. Vaccination against N. meningitidis is not routinely given to infants at this time.
- Teens and young adults are at risk from Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Younger teens who are up to date on vaccines have been vaccinated against S pneumoniae, but since the vaccine was introduced in 2000, older teens might have missed this vaccine and it is not recommended to do catch up unless they are in a high risk group, such as if they are immune compromised or missing a spleen.
- Vaccines are now available that help protect against all three serogroups (B, C, and Y) of meningococcal disease that are the most commonly seen meningococcal subtypes in the United States:
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra®- which covers A, C, W, Y subtypes, Menveo®- which covers A, C, W, Y subtypes and MenHibrix®- which covers C, Y, and Hib) is recommended as part of the routine vaccine schedule at 11-12 years of age with a booster at 16 years. It is also recommended at younger ages for high risk people (immune compromise, spleen issues, and certain travel).
- Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Menomune®- covers A, C, W, Y) is given to people over 55 years of age.
- Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (Bexsero® and Trumenba®- both cover subtypeB). This is only recommended with a permissive use status, meaning it is not highly recommended for any age group, but it is allowed to be given to anyone over 16 years of age and is encouraged for high risk people, sometimes down to 10 years of age, depending on the risk. High risk people are those with known immune problems, specific chronic diseases, or who have no working spleen. High risk might include when there is a known outbreak, so if your college student hears of meningitis on campus don't let them think they don't need it due to vaccination with one of the vaccines that covers A, C, W, and Y. Some colleges require vaccination against meningitis B in addition to A, C, W and Y.