Meningitis Vaccine Especially Important For Teens, Young Adults

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Teens and young adults are the groups at highest risk of catching the contagious and potentially dangerous disease meningitis.

Meningitis is a swelling of the protective membranes that cover your brain and spinal cord.

There are two main types of meningitis – bacterial and viral.

Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical care. It progresses rapidly and can lead to serious, life-long complications. Even death.

Bacterial meningitis can lead to partial or complete loss of hearing, brain damage, nerve damage, and blood clots that can cause tissue death that may require amputation of fingers, toes, even entire limbs. These serious complications make rapid diagnosis and treatment essential.”

Viral meningitis is more common. It is still serious, but rarely causes long-term complications.

How It Spreads

The disease is contagious and spreads through respiratory secretions when someone coughs or sneezes. Kissing, sharing utensils, sharing toothbrushes, or even drinking from the same container can also spread meningitis.

Once you’re infected with the virus or bacterium, it travels through your bloodstream and causes the inflammation around the lining of your brain and spinal cord.

Infectious diseases like meningitis spread quickly among large groups of people. Gathering together for sports, in clubs, at social outings and at school increases the risk for teens and young adults.

Communal housing and living in close quarters also add to the risk of meningitis exposure among college students.

Teens and young adults ages 16 to 23 are the highest at-risk group for contracting meningitis. Up to 20 percent of survivors of bacterial meningitis suffer serious, life-long complications, while an additional 15 percent of people diagnosed with the disease die as a result of it, despite rapid treatment.

Prevention Is Key

An effective way to protect your children from meningitis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises, is to make sure they stay up to date on standard childhood immunizations – for diseases such as measles, chickenpox, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), and pneumococcal infection.

Also, talk with your doctor about whether your child should receive the meningococcal vaccine to prevent bacterial meningitis. Two doses are recommended.

The first dose of the vaccine should be given at around 11 or 12 years old, with a booster at age 16.

If your children don’t get the first dose until they're between 13 and 15 years old, they should get the booster between 16 and 18.

Anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated for meningitis by age 16 needs only one dose.

Other preventive measures include:

  • Hand washing
  • Sneezing and coughing into your sleeve or a tissue
  • Not sharing drinking or eating utensils and not kissing anyone who is sick, as meningitis can be transmitted through saliva
  • Being aware of signs and symptoms of meningitis

Meningitis Symptoms And Diagnosis

If you catch meningitis, you might notice vague symptoms at first and think it’s just a cold or a stomach bug, but the disease can take a quick turn and become fatal.

Both bacterial and viral meningitis cause many of the same symptoms, including:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting

Bacterial meningitis symptoms can also include a rash and seizures.

Symptoms of viral meningitis can resemble the flu, including body aches, a cough, and a runny nose.

Health care providers can diagnose meningitis and determine which type you have using information you give them, blood tests, a lumbar puncture, and imaging.

Bacterial meningitis requires immediate hospitalization to administer antibiotics and other needed medications and for very close monitoring.

Viral meningitis, which is not treated with antibiotics, is usually managed at home with supportive measures during recovery.

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