By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Meningitis, especially caused by certain bacteria and viruses, is preventable with vaccinations and prophylactic or preventable antibiotics and medications among those who have been exposed to the infection.
Vaccinations may be against routine infections as part of the child’s immunization programme or they may be age and immunity specific and specific for travellers to regions with high incidences of particular infections.
Routine vaccinations for children
Notable vaccines for children among preventable causes of meningitis include:
- The mengingococcal vaccine against type C meningococcus
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) that protects against pneumococcus infection. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine covers over 23 strains.
- viral causes like measles and mumps by the Measles, Mumps and the Rubella vaccine
- DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccination that protects against Hemophilus influenza type b, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio
- Childhood vaccination with Bacillus Calmette-Guérin or BCG has been reported to significantly reduce the rate of tuberculous meningitis
All children should receive these vaccines as a part of their childhood vaccination programme.
Vaccines for elderly and those with suppressed immunity
Those over 65 and those with diseases that decrease immunity are in need for coverage against certain organisms that may cause meningitis.
Notable among these is the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine that protects against pneumococcal meningitis. PCV is administered specifically in certain groups (e.g. those who have had a splenectomy, the surgical removal of the spleen)
Vaccines for travellers
Those who are travelling to regions with high incidences of infections leading to meningitis need to be vaccinated before they travel. Their vaccine needs to include those against groups A, C, W135 and Y of the meningococcal bacteria and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine against pneumococcal infection.
High risk areas include Africa especially if the person is planning on a trip longer than a month, decides to go hiking or backpacking, visiting local rural areas, or attending the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia.
Antibiotics for prevention of meningitis
Antibiotics like Rifampicin are administered for the short term among all persons exposed to meningococcal meningitis. In cases of meningococcal meningitis, prophylactic treatment of close contacts with antibiotics (e.g. rifampicin, ciprofloxacin or ceftriaxone) can reduce their risk of contracting the condition.
Unlike vaccines, antibiotics do not protect against future infections on exposure to the infection.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Oct 14, 2012