The best way to prevent bacterial meningitis is through vaccination.
Vaccines prepare the immune system by exposing the body to a germ so that it is better able to fight an infection when it occurs. Vaccines contain either parts of a germ, live but weakened germs, or inactivated (dead) germs.
Meningococcal vaccines exist to protect against meningococcal disease
Polysaccharide vaccines are available to protect older children, adolescents and adults, outbreaks or situations of increased risk (military recruits, university students, travelers). May be used in conjunction with antibiotics. These include:
Conjugated vaccines exist for routine immunisation of infants, children and adolescents. These include:
A conjugate Group A vaccine for use in Africa has been developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project. This vaccine is being used to reduce and control epidemic meningococcal meningitis in the Sub-Saharan meningitis belt.
Recombinant protein vaccines are now available that protect against group B.
One vaccine (Bexsero) can be given to infants, children, adolescents and adults. A second vaccine (Trumenba) can be given to adolescents and adults. Access to these vaccines varies by country depending upon licensing and the national immunisation programme.
Pneumococcal vaccines exist to protect against pneumococcal meningitis
A number of polysaccharide vaccines exist for routine immunisation of people over 65 years of age and children over 5 years of age with underlying medical conditions. These include:
Hib vaccines to protect against Haemophilus Influenzae Type b
The first Hib vaccine was a polysaccharide-only vaccine. Although it provided protection in children between 2 and 5 years of age, it was not effective in infants less than 18 months old.
Conjugated Hib vaccines are highly effective in preventing Hib disease and are recommended for routine use in all infants.
Meningitis-preventing vaccines have proven to be extremely safe. Because they are composed of purified polysaccharide and protein, there is no possibility of contracting meningitis or any other infection from these vaccines.
Other things to remember include:
Anyone who has been in close contact with a meningitis patient within seven days before the onset of the disease is at increased risk of contracting it themselves. With meningococcal and Hib infections, preventative antibiotics are usually offered to close contacts. These reduce, but cannot eliminate, the risk of family members or other close contacts becoming ill.
Safe, effective vaccines are now available for many common types of meningitis and new vaccines are in development all the time.
There are no vaccines available for the common kinds of viral meningitis, but washing hands thoroughly and keeping surfaces clean can help prevent the disease. People should also avoid sharing anything that has been in their mouth.
Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) and chickenpox vaccines protect children against meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) caused by these viruses.
Vaccines are not available for fungal meningitis. The risk of contracting fungal meningitis can be minimised by avoiding exposure to environments likely to contain fungal elements (for example, bird droppings and dust).