Instances of meningococcal disease are rare but should not be taken lightly. While treatable with modern medicines, meningococcal disease will result in serious permanent damage and even death in up to 1 out of every 4 survivors. There are currently two vaccines recommended by the CDC for the prevention of meningococcal disease.
Here are five things you should know about the meningococcal vaccines and why you should consider taking one or both of them.
1. What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is an invasive infection with the gram-negative bacteria Neisseria meningitides. It is spread via direct contact with respiratory secretions or aerosolized droplets of respiratory fluids. Common symptoms include meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spine), headache, fever, stiffness of the neck, nausea, vomiting, an aversion to bright light, and an altered mental status.
While rare and treatable with modern antibiotics, meningococcal disease will leave significant permanent impairment such as brain damage and loss of a limb or hearing in up to 20 percent of survivors. 10 to 15 percent will die from the disease even when treated with antibiotics.
2. Why should I take the vaccine?
The CDC says folks living with HIV and other immunocompromised individuals are particularly at risk and should take the vaccine. Other high-risk groups include those taking a complement inhibitor (like Soliris or Ultomiris), those with sickle cell disease or issues with their spleen, first-year college students, and military recruits. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are also at increased risk and should consider taking the vaccine.
And since meningococcal disease can be spread by kissing, coughing, sharing a drink or lipstick, active or passive smoking, or being in close social settings, those who frequent bars and clubs should also consider taking the vaccine.
The CDC says you should not take the vaccine if you are not feeling well, if you have had a severe reaction to a past dose of a meningococcal vaccine, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
3. Why are there different types of vaccines?
There are different vaccines because there are at least 13 different groupings of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Six basic serogroups – A, B, C, W-135, X, and Y – are responsible for nearly all cases of the disease worldwide. Instances of meningococcal disease in the U.S. are almost exclusively caused by serogroups B, C, and Y, and are treated with two vaccines – meningococcal conjugate or MenACWY vaccines and serogroup B meningococcal or MenB vaccines.
4. Which vaccine is right for me?
For most adults living in the U.S, the CDC recommends the MenACWY vaccine. If you’ve also been exposed to a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak or if you plan on traveling to sub-Saharan African, the U.K., or Europe, you should also consider taking the MenB vaccine.
5. What are the side effects?
While roughly half of those who receive the vaccine will develop side effects, they are usually mild and get better within 24 to 48 hours. Common side effects include redness and soreness where the shot was received, muscle or joint pain, headache, fever or chills, nausea or diarrhea, and fatigue.