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The Meningococcal Vaccine


Parents of school-age children are likely familiar with the vaccinations required to enter public school or take part in childcare centers. The meningococc​al vaccine is one of these shots. It protects children against bacterial infections that can cause meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord.

The vaccine options

There are two types of meningococcal vaccines: MCV4 which protects against A,C, W and Y types of meningococcal bacteria and the MenB vaccine which protects against type B meningococcal bacterium. This new vaccine is not commonly recommended for all children, but is reserved for those with lowered immune systems and who may be more likely to develop meningococcal disease. Typically, children ages 11-12 get the MCV4 vaccine. These shots can be administered at a doctor's office, or some schools host immunization days. Then, a booster shot is required once the child turns 16. If a teen makes it to age 16 without the first shot, he or she can take just the regular MCV4 without the booster. 

"Travel may impact a childs risk of meningitis."

Risks of me​ningococcal disease

You're probably wondering, "Is my child at risk?" There are some factors that can increase the likelihood that a child will have this infection. Those who have HIV, who have no spleen or have spleen damage, and individuals who travel through countries where meningococcal infections are common should all have vaccines at an earlier age than 11-12. If you are concerned that your child may be at risk, talk with your doctor.

For a list of countries where infection is common, visit the CDC website. The area known as the meningitis belt resides in northern Africa, with high risk areas ranging from Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in the west to Ethiopia and Eritrea in the east. Always check travel warnings before taking a child to another country and talk over your plans with your family physician. He or she can recommend extra vaccinations or precautions to avoid contracting any conditions or diseases that are prevalent in your destination area.

Signs and symptoms 

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection often referred to simply as meningitis. Common symptoms range from vomiting and nausea to confusion and sensitivity to light. If your child has the disease, it is likely he or she contracted it within the last three to seven days. Infants with meningitis may be irritable, inactive, not interested in food or may vomit more than normal. Slower reflexes, headache and neck stiffness may also occur in individuals infected with meningitis. If you suspect your child has the infection, contact a doctor immediately. He or she will take a blood or cerebrospinal fluid sample and send it to the lab. The results from this testing can inform the physician how severe the condition is and how to treat it. Some instances are contagious, requiring the child's family to take preventative measures like antibiotics to avoid getting meningitis themselves.

Meningitis treatment involves antibiotics, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that if left untreated, it can lead to brain damage, long-term disabilities, loss of limbs or even deafness. Preventative vaccinations are key to avoiding exposure to meningitis.

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