The meningitis vaccines and teenagers: What parents should know
Many universities and colleges recommend that students get a meningitis vaccination before moving into halls of residence. Why?
Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord that can result from many different types of viruses or bacteria. Most cases of viral meningitis resolve without specific treatment, but bacterial meningitis is extremely dangerous.
Most cases of bacterial meningitis in the UK are caused by meningococcal group B (MenB) bacteria. Many of the rest are caused by meningococcal group C (MenC) bacteria - although the number of meningococcal group C cases has fallen greatly due to immunisation introduced in 1999.
Why do teenagers need a meningitis vaccination?
Many of the people who get meningococcal disease each year are teenagers and young adults, and about one in 10 cases are fatal, even with antibiotic treatment. Around one in four will have permanent after-effects, such as hearing loss or brain damage. This is why immunisation against meningitis is so important. It can help prevent this serious disease.
Which meningitis vaccines are available?
All 13-14 year olds are routinely offered a combined vaccine that protects against the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal disease.
Students attending university or college for the first time who’ve not had the ACWY vaccination are also advised to have it.
Because meningitis can spread easily through university halls of residence, having up to date protection is important.
If you are under the age of 25 and haven’t been immunised, and have concerns, see your doctor or practice nurse about it.
You should be immunised with the ACWY vax vaccine if you intend to travel to areas where meningococcal infection is a risk. These include areas of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Saudi Arabia. Your doctor or practice nurse can advise if you should have this immunisation. Protection is thought to last about five years, but proof of recent vaccination may be needed for some destinations.
Muslim pilgrims: Pilgrims to Saudi Arabia are especially at risk of contracting meningococcal infection. There have been outbreaks in recent years. Proof of immunisation is needed to obtain a visa to go to Saudi Arabia for this purpose.
Close contacts of a person with meningococcal infection: these may be offered immunisation. The vaccine used depends on the meningococcal strain causing the illness.
Who should not get a meningitis vaccine?
Your pre-teen or teenager should not get the meningococcal vaccine if he or she has had a severe life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous meningococcal vaccine, to any vaccine component, or to latex.
Before getting a meningococcal vaccine, it is important for you or your child to tell the doctor or nurse:
- About any severe allergies
- If he or she is moderately or severely ill (the vaccination may need to be postponed)
- If he or she has been diagnosed in the past with Guillain-Barré syndrome
- If she is pregnant