As the mother of a meningitis survivor I can speak first hand as to the physical devastation meningitis can cause to a perfectly healthy child... don't let this happen to your child. Prevent what's preventable.
- Patsy Schanbaum, The J.A.M.I.E Group, USA
Patsy and Jamie
The best way to prevent meningitis is through vaccination. Second to clean drinking water and good hygiene, vaccines are the most effective way of preventing infectious diseases. Bacterial meningitis and septicaemia are examples of diseases where vaccination can be the difference between life and death or life-long disability.
In its simplest sense, a vaccine helps to prevent an illness by increasing the body’s resistance to that illness.
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.
Keep reading to find additional information about vaccines and answers to commonly asked questions.
I believe Mary-Jo would still be here if she had been vaccinated. Mary-Jo died from a vaccine-preventable strain of meningitis – meningococcal meningitis type C.
- Rose, MAK - Meningitis Awareness Key to Prevention , USA
Rose and her daughter Maryjo
Meningitis Vaccines Q&A
Vaccine Manufacture and Availability
1. What are vaccines made of?
2. How do vaccines work?
3. Which vaccines can protect my child from bacterial meningitis?
4. Which vaccines can protect my child from viral meningitis?
5. Which causes/forms of meningitis have no vaccine?
6. Why does it take so long to develop a vaccine and why are they so expensive?
7.If unable to access a vaccine, what should you do?
1. Who should get meningitis vaccines?
2. Does having meningitis and surviving mean that I am immune?
3. How quickly does a meningitis vaccine work?
4. How long does protection from a meningitis vaccine last?
5. Do meningitis vaccines offer complete protection?
6. How effective are the meningitis vaccines currently in use?
7. How important is it to follow the recommended schedule?
1. Are meningitis vaccines safe?
2. What are the side effects of meningitis vaccines?
3. Can vaccines overload the immune system of my child?
4. What are the risks of not vaccinating?
5. Who should not receive vaccines?
Other points on prevention
Risk factors and behaviours
Seasonal factors can affect the incidence of bacterial meningitis. In temperate regions, the disease is more common in the winter and early spring. In Sub-Saharan Africa, outbreaks occur in the dry season.
Cases are more frequent in low income countries due to poverty, overcrowding, and lack of access to vaccines.
With meningococcal and Hib infections, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has contracted the disease within seven days before the onset is at increased risk of contracting it themselves. Preventative antibiotics are usually offered to close contacts. These reduce, but cannot eliminate, the risk of family members or other close contacts becoming ill.
Some behaviours can help protect individuals and communities. For instance:
Washing hands thoroughly
Keeping surfaces clean
Avoid sharing anything that has been in someone else’s mouth e.g. drink, cigarette etc.
Stopping smoking may lower the risk of spreading meningitis germs and is good for your health. Smoking increases the risk of being a carrier of meningitis bacteria.
Group B strep
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a major cause of sepsis and meningitis in babies under 3 months.
Women commonly carry GBS without any harm to themselves but they may pass the bacteria to their babies around birth. Most GBS infections in newborn babies can be prevented through providing intravenous antibiotics – ideally penicillin – to women whose babies are at raised risk during labour. Women whose babies are at raised risk of the infection are typically identified by testing them for GBS carriage late in pregnancy or using key risk factors.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent GBS infection, although different vaccine trials are at various stages of development. A vaccine against GBS could have huge benefits, preventing many more GBS infections than antibiotics in labour can, as well as reducing the use of antibiotics.
We know that this dramatic story would not necessarily have happened if we had known of the existence of a vaccination against pneumococcal infections and had vaccinated our little Ondra. But we did not know about it until it was too late.
Katherine and her son Ondra
1. Where can I get more information on vaccines?
Contact a CoMO Member in your country to find out what vaccines are available to you.
The Meningitis Vaccines Q&A Resource was made for members by The Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO). All information has been verified by The CoMO Scientific Advisory Group and is accurate as of April 2020.