Meningococcal Disease and Vaccine
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. It can lead to meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and infections of the blood. Meningococcal disease often occurs without warning – even among people who are otherwise healthy. Even when it is treated, meningococcal disease kills 10 to 15 infected people out of 100. And of those who survive, about 10 to 20 out of every 100 will suffer disabilities such as hearing loss, brain damage, kidney damage, amputations, nervous system problems, or severe scars from skin grafts.
About 1 out of 10 people have this type of bacteria in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms of disease; this is called being ‘a carrier’. But sometimes Neisseria meningitidis bacteria can invade the body causing certain illnesses, which are known as meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal disease is spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if living in the same household. Fortunately, these bacteria are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or the flu. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been.
Sometimes Neisseria meningitidis bacteria spread to people who have had close or lengthy contact with a patient with meningococcal disease. People in the same household, roommates, or anyone with direct contact with a patient’s oral secretions, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, would be considered at increased risk of getting the infection.
There are five serogroups (“strains”) of Neisseria meningitidis: A, B, C, W, and Y that cause most disease worldwide. Three of these serogroups (B, C, and Y) cause most of the illness seen in the United States.
Vaccines are available that can help prevent meningococcal disease, which is any type of illness caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. There are three types of meningococcal vaccines available in the United States:
•Meningococcal conjugate vaccines (Menactra®, Menveo®, and MenHibrix®)
•Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Menomune®)
•Serogroup B meningococcal vaccines (Bexsero® and Trumenba®)
Conjugated Meningococcal Vaccine (Menactra or Menveo)
The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all 11 to 12 year olds should be vaccinated with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra® or Menveo®). A booster dose is recommended at age 16 years. Persons who receive their first dose on or after their sixteenth birthday do not need a booster dose. Other undergraduate students wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease can also choose to be vaccinated. The American College Health Association concurs with these recommendations.
Meningitis B Vaccine (Bexsero and Trumenba)
The CDC and ACIP provide the following recommendations for use of the serogroup B meningococcal vaccines:
Meningitis serogroup B (Men B) vaccines are recommended routinely for people 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections, including:
•People at risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak
•Anyone whose spleen is damaged or has been removed
•Anyone with a rare immune system condition called “persistent complement component deficiency”
•Anyone taking a drug called eculizumab (also called Soliris®)
•Microbiologists who routinely work with isolates of N. meningitidis
These vaccines may also be given to anyone 16 through 23 years old to provide short term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease; 16 through 18 years are the preferred ages for vaccination. CDC and ACIP are not currently recommending routine use of this vaccine in otherwise healthy college students in settings where there is not a current confirmed outbreak of this disease.
Two serogroup B meningococcal vaccines — Bexsero® and Trumenba® — have been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For best protection, more than 1 dose of a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine is needed. The same vaccine must be used for all doses. Ask your health care provider about the number and timing of doses.
NC Session Law 2003-194, HB 825 requires that any private or public institution that offers postsecondary degrees “provide meningococcal disease information to students if the institution has a residential campus.”
Wake Forest students who desire these vaccines should get it from their family physician or local health department. The WFU Student Health Service has these vaccines available.
For more information on Meningococcal Disease go to: https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html
Updated March 2017