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Meningitis vaccine

The meningitis vaccine is recommended for the meningitis belt of Africa (sub-Saharan Africa) during the dry season and required for Saudi Arabia for participation in Hajj or Umrah

Available at all Away Clinic locations:

Away Clinic is an Arizona-based travel vaccine provider specializing in hard-to-find vaccines and expert medical advice for international travelers. Vaccines are administered by a registered nurse following CDC guidelines. 

Here we discuss the MenACWY vaccine. There is also a MenB vaccine that addresses different forms of meningitis. MenB is discussed elsewhere.


What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection that affects the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges. It can be caused by a variety of different types of bacteria and viruses. Meningitis caused by bacteria is considered more serious and can lead to severe illness and death. The most common cause of bacterial meningitis is a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.


Symptoms of meningococcal bacteria infection can include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and a rash. In severe cases, meningitis can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, and other serious complications.

It's important to get medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect that you or someone you know has meningitis, as prompt treatment with antibiotics can be lifesaving. Vaccination is also available to protect against certain types of meningitis, and it is recommended for certain groups such as college students living in dormitories.


What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease typically manifests 1–10 days after exposure. Meningococcal disease is fast-moving disease that has a case-fatality ratio of 10%–20%, even with antibiotic treatment. Without immediate treatment, fatality ratios can be much higher.


Meningitis. More than half of people who are infected do end up with full-blown meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis is characterized by sudden onset of headache, fever, and neck stiffness. It can sometimes be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, photophobia, or altered mental status.


Meningococcemia. Approximately 40% of people with meningococcal disease present with meningococcal sepsis, known as meningococcemia. Symptoms of meningococcemia can include abrupt onset of fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and a pink, purple or red spots just under the skin, which can progress to large purple patches of dead and dying skin. Meningococcemia often involves low blood pressure, internal bleeding, and organ failure.


Small children. Among infants and children under 2 years old, meningococcal disease may have nonspecific symptoms. Neck stiffness, usually seen in people with meningitis, may be absent in this age group.


How does meningitis spread?

Meningitis spreads through sneezing, coughing or direct contact with an infected person's respiratory secretions. This can mean having contact with an infected person, such as living in close quarters like dormitories, or through respiratory droplets in the air. In some cases, it can also spread through contact with an infected person's saliva, such as by sharing drinks or cigarettes.


It is important to note that not everyone who comes into contact with the bacteria that causes meningitis will become infected. Some people may carry the bacteria in their nose or throat without becoming ill. However, if a person is infected with meningitis, it is important to seek medical attention immediately, as prompt treatment with antibiotics can be lifesaving.


Preventative measures such as vaccination, good hygiene practices like regular handwashing and avoiding sharing drinks, cigarettes, or personal items with others can help to prevent the spread of meningitis.


How is meningitis treated?

Meningitis is a serious infection that requires prompt medical attention. Treatment will depend on the cause of the meningitis, whether it is caused by bacteria or a virus.

Bacterial meningitis is considered more serious and requires prompt treatment with antibiotics. Treatment typically includes hospitalization, and antibiotics are given through an IV. Depending on the specific bacteria causing the meningitis, different types of antibiotics may be used. In some cases, people with meningitis may also receive corticosteroids, which can reduce inflammation and swelling around the brain and spinal cord.


Viral meningitis is typically less severe and may not require hospitalization. Treatment typically includes rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers to alleviate symptoms.

In both types of meningitis, supportive care is also important. This may include measures to control fever and manage pain, as well as monitoring for and treating any complications that may arise. It's important to seek medical attention immediately if you suspect that you or someone you know has meningitis, as prompt treatment can be lifesaving.


What does the meningococcal vaccine do?

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine is used to prevent meningococcal disease. It can protect against four different types of meningococcal disease, including Neisseria meningitidis, which is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis. The meningococcal vaccine works by helping the body develop immunity to certain types of bacteria that can cause meningitis.


The meningococcal vaccine does not protect against all types of meningitis-causing bacteria, but it can significantly reduce the risk of contracting meningitis from the specific types of bacteria that it targets. It is important to note that the meningococcal vaccine does not provide life-long protection, so booster doses may be needed.

It's important to discuss with your healthcare provider to determine if you should be vaccinated and to determine which type of vaccine is right for you based on your age, health status and other factors.


Who should receive the meningococcal vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that certain groups of people should receive the meningococcal vaccine. The recommendations may vary depending on the type of vaccine and the specific population.

CDC recommendations the following groups receive the meningococcal vaccine:

  • All preteens at 11 to 12 years old

  • All teens at 16 years old

The booster dose at 16 years old gives teens continued protection during the ages when they are at highest risk.


The CDC also recommends the meningococcal vaccine for travelers who plan to visit the sub-Saharan Africa (the meningitis belt) during the dry season (Dec-June). Saudi Arabia requires meningococcal vaccine for travelers who plan to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage or Umrah pilgrimage.


It's important to discuss with your healthcare provider to determine if you should be vaccinated and to determine which type of vaccine is right for you based on your age, health status, occupation, travel plans and other factors.


Do I need the meningococcal vaccine for travel if I've already received it as a youth?

For entry into Saudi Arabia you have to show evidence of having had the vaccine no more than three years before entry into the country. The CDC recommends a booster dose every 5 years for people traveling to or living in a hyperendemic area (such as the meningitis belt of Africa).


Are meningococcal vaccines safe?

Meningitis vaccines are safe but side effects can occur. About half of people who get a the vaccine experience mild discomfort (redness or pain at the injection site, fever) following vaccination. These reactions normally go away on their own within 1 to 2 days, but severe allergic reactions are possible. If you do have a serious adverse reaction you should immediately seek medical attention.


The meningitis belt in Africa

Meningitis is a significant problem in Africa. The region known as the "meningitis belt," which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, is particularly affected by outbreaks of the disease. Factors such as crowded living conditions, poor sanitation, and limited access to healthcare can contribute to the spread of meningitis in Africa. Vaccination and public health education campaigns have been implemented to try to control the spread of the disease, but it remains a significant health concern in the region. The CDC recommends meningococcal vaccination for travelers who visit the meningitis belt during the dry season from December to June.


Meningitis risk during the Hajj

Meningitis is a potential problem during the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Crowded living conditions and close contact between large numbers of people from different parts of the world during the Hajj can contribute to the spread of the disease. The Saudi Arabian government, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), have implemented measures to prevent the spread of meningitis, such as requiring all pilgrims to have a meningococcal vaccine and providing vaccinations on site. Despite these efforts, occasional cases and outbreaks of meningitis have occurred during the Hajj in the past.


Meningococcal disease in college dormitories

College students are at an increased risk of contracting meningitis because they live in close quarters with many other people, which can make it easy for the bacteria or viruses that cause the infection to spread. Meningitis vaccines are recommended to reduce the risk of infection and serious complications including death. To protect the health and well-being of all students living in the dorms, some colleges and universities may require students to be vaccinated against meningitis before allowing them to move in.


Where can I get the meningococcal vaccine in Arizona?

Away Clinic offers meningococcal vaccines at all of its locations. Away Clinic mainly caters to travelers so if you are traveling to the meningitis belt of Africa during the dry season (Dec-June) or if you are heading to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, please come see us.

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