Preventing Bacterial Meningitis

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.

The vaccines available protect against the three major causes of bacterial meningitis, meningococcal diseasepneumococcal meningitis and Haemophilus Influenzae Type b.

Meningococcal vaccines

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:

  • Combined groups A and C vaccine
  • Combined groups A-C-Y-W135 vaccine

Conjugated vaccines exist for routine immunisation of infants, children and adolescents. These include:

  • Conjugate group C vaccine
  • Conjugate groups A-C-Y-W135 vaccine

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

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:

  • Combined polysaccharide vaccine against the 23 most common serotypes  causing pneumococcal disease in those aged 5 and older.
  • Conjugated vaccine against the 7 most common serotypes causing disease in children aged 5 and younger.
  • Conjugated vaccine against the 10 most common serotypes causing disease in children aged 5 and younger.
  • Conjugated vaccine against the 13 most common serotypes causing disease in children aged 5 and younger (including serotype 19A). Because a large proportion of type 19A strains are resistant to penicillin, treatment of pneumococcal meningitis can require the use of other antibiotics, which may have more side effects.


Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib) vaccines

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.


Vaccine Safety

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 points on prevention

  • Smoking increases the risk of being a carrier of meningitis bacteria. Stopping smoking is good for your health and may lower the risk of spreading meningitis germs.
  • Seasonal factors can also affect the incidence of bacterial meningitis. In temperate regions, the disease in the winter and early spring. In Sub-Saharan Africa, outbreaks occur in the dry season.
  • Cases are more frequent in developing countries due to poverty, overcrowding and lack of access to vaccines.

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.  

Contact a CoMO Member in your country to find out what vaccines are available to you.


Preventing Viral Meningitis

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.


Preventing Fungal Meningitis

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).