The meninges are the protective layer of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. The illness meningitis is an infection of this protective layer. Bacteria or viruses can cause meningitis. While viral meningitis is more common, bacterial meningitis is usually a more severe form of the disease and can potentially cause permanent brain damage or death. Immunizations can protect against some of the most common causes of meningitis, reducing the risk of this potentially life-threatening illness.
The bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcus) is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States. Early meningococcal meningitis symptoms include sudden fever, headache and stiff neck; nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and a purple rash typically develop quickly along with decreased consciousness. Two vaccines are available in the United States to protect against meningococcus, meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) and meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends MCV4 for routine vaccination of people ages two to 55. MPSV4 is recommended for people older than age 55. Both MPSV4 and MCV4 are used to control outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis.
Hemophilus influenza Type b Vaccines
Prior to the introduction of a protective vaccine, Hemophilus influenza type b (Hib) was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children younger than age five in the United States. CDC reports that since the routine Hib immunization of infants and children began in 1990, there has been a 99 percent decrease in the incidence of this life-threatening infection. Two types of Hib vaccines are available in the United States, PRP-OMP and PRP-T. The first shot of either Hib vaccine is typically given at two months of age. Two or three additional shots are required for full protection against Hib; the number of shots depends on which Hib vaccine is used.
The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as pneumococcus) is a leading cause of bacterial pneumonia in the United States. However, pneumococcus also causes other serious infections including bacterial meningitis. CDC reports pneumococcus is responsible for 13 to 19 percent of bacterial meningitis cases in the United States. The disease occurs in both children and adults. Two pneumococcal vaccines are licensed for use in the United States. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) is recommended for adults age 65 and older and for children age two and older with a chronic medical condition. CDC recommends pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) for all children younger than age two and for children age two to five with a medical condition that puts them at risk for serious pneumococcal infection. Conditions that increase risk for serious pneumococcal infection include HIV disease, sickle cell disease, the presence of a cochlear implant, removal of the spleen, and any condition that weakens the immune system.
Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccines
Although uncommon, mumps and measles viruses can attack the meninges causing viral meningitis. Routine childhood immunizations offer protection against mumps and measles thereby protecting against these two types of viral meningitis. Combination vaccines are used for measles and mumps. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. The newer MMRV vaccine protects against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. Rubella is the virus that causes German measles; varicella causes chickenpox. Talk with your doctor about whether MMR or MMRV is best for your child.
About this Author
Tina Andrews has been a medical writer and editor since 2000. She has published in “Cancer,” “Ethnicity & Disease,” and “Liver Health Today,” and was formerly a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Andrews holds a Doctor of Medicine degree and a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry.