With the tragic death of an OSU student just before break, it is timely to discuss meningitis vaccine. We are talking about the worst form of meningitis in adults, which is Meningococcal meningitis. Vaccines have been sought for many years to protect people from this disease.
This is particularly true after the great success with vaccination against another form of meningitis in infants with the HIB vaccine. Haemophilus Influnzae B used to be the most common cause of meningitis in children, and now happens in only 2 out of every 100,000 children.
Meningococcal meningitis is present in several forms (or serotypes) that are important to understanding the vaccine. The current US vaccines protect against Type A, C, Y and W-135. A fifth type, serotype B, is not included in the vaccine. Vaccines that protect against B are still in development. What does this mean for you? We agree with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that all adolescents should be vaccinated before high school, and consider a booster dose of vaccine if they are going to college. Additional doses are recommended for people with certain health conditions.
However, we must remember that even 100% vaccination is not going to prevent every case of meningitis. In addition to getting the meningitis vaccine, we should all be practicing good hygiene by limiting contact with people when we have a fever, covering coughs and sneezes, avoid sharing things that can be contaminated with saliva (cups, cans, utensils, smokes of all kinds), and also seeking care for severe headache and fever. These steps may not prevent all tragic outcomes, as this disease can be very aggressive, but should help.
Another thought – consider getting your flu shot every fall. A bout of respiratory infection, including influenza, may increase your risk of meningococcal infection. For more meningitis information, you can visit our web site and the CDC Meningitis web site.
Best of Health,
Roger Miller, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University