Prevalence rates of meningitis in the US is 1.3 cases for every 100,000 of the population, accounting for around 4100 cases annually. The relatively high morbidity rate of 500 deaths out of the 4100 makes it a cause for concern. Vaccines for the condition are available, and offer protection from the condition. Similar to medications and other vaccines, there are possible undesirable effects from the vaccine. Subsequent sections offer a detailed look at the disease, including possible meningitis vaccine side effects to help individuals take suitable remedial measures to prevent and mitigate the unwanted outcomes.

Overview of meningitis

Before we look at the vaccine, it is important to understand more about the condition. Meningitis refers to inflammation that occurs in the fluid and membranes that are located around the spinal cord and brain.  Though typically attributed to viral infections, meningitis is also caused as a result of bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections. There are tell-tale symptoms of the condition, such as a stiff neck not attributed to any other condition, throbbing headache and fever. While patients are often known to recover from the disease without the need for any specific treatment, in certain cases, the patient unfortunately loses his/her life, due to various complications. The use of antibiotics to tackle bacterial meningitis is known to prevent the infection from causing complications that are serious in nature.

Different types of meningitis

The disease can be broadly classified into bacterial meningitis, fungal meningitis, viral meningitis, chronic, parasitic and meningitis due to other reasons. Bacterial meningitis refers to the condition caused by the entry of bacteria into the blood, followed by moving to the brain, where the damage is caused. Other reasons are also responsible for bacterial meningitis, such as ear infections and sinus infections. Various strains of bacteria are responsible for the infections such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae, Haemophilus influenzae type b and Listeria monocytogenes.  

Viral meningitis refers to the condition wherein the infection is due to viruses like herpes simplex, mumps virus, and HIV apart from West Nile virus. Chronic meningitis refers to the condition caused by organism that grow extremely slowly. For instance, fungi enter the membranes and the fluid around the brain, resulting in chronic meningitis. This may typically take as long as two weeks to develop with similar symptoms. Fungal meningitis may appear similar to bacterial meningitis, and is attributed to the presence of fungal spores in the environment. This is not contagious in nature, and cryptococcal meningitis typically afflicts individuals with immune deficiencies.

Another category of the condition is Parasitic meningitis attributed to parasites, such as tapeworm; and this is relatively rare in occurrence. Certain individuals are known to contract amoebic meningitis due to fresh water activities, and this rare condition needs to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest before it could plunge into life threatening dimensions. In addition to this, there are causes for meningitis, that are not due to infections. For instance, certain allergic reactions or chemical reactions are also known to be responsible for meningitis.

Commonly observed symptoms of meningitis

Symptoms associated with meningitis may appear similar to that of the flu, and is known to develop quickly, often in a period of many hours or sometimes days. The most commonly observed or reported symptom of meningitis is high grade fever that manifests quickly. The patient is also likely to have a stiff neck as a result of the condition. Headache experienced by patients with meningitis is different from that of headaches experienced due to other reasons. This may sometimes be accompanied by feelings of nausea or vomit. The patient may experience some form of confusion or may have difficulty in focussing on activities or thoughts. There is also the likelihood of patients experiencing seizures as a result of the condition.

Patients may also end up feeling drowsy, and are also known to have difficulty in waking up after ging to sleep. Other symptoms include a sudden lack of thirst or loss of appetite, for no particular reason. The individual may also end up with sensitivity when exposed to light, and this could affect routines. Patients are also known to develop skin rashes, and this is specifically attributed to meningococcal meningitis. The symptoms exhibited by new-borns are also similar to that of adults with certain additional symptoms such as crying all the time, and the formation of a bulge on the soft spot on the head of the baby.

Certain symptoms make it necessary to seek medical intervention at the earliest; for instance, when headache is severe and unbearable, it is necessary to seek assistance. One type of meningitis – bacterial meningitis is considered as serious and could possibly result in a fatal condition if the right antibiotics are not administered on time. Any delay in the treatment may expose the patient to the possibility of brain damage that is permanent in nature.

Individuals exposed to risk of meningitis

There are individuals who are exposed to the risk of meningitis, and it is of paramount importance for such people take suitable measures. Individuals who have not received vaccination at the right time, either during childhood, or as adults are at risk of getting infected. Children below the age of five are likely to be exposed to higher risk of viral meningitis, while those below twenty are more likely to get bacterial meningitis. The classification of risk as per age groups helps in following the necessary precautions to prevent the condition.

As certain types of meningitis are infectious, this exposes individuals in shared living spaces to the risk of contracting the condition. For instance, students in colleges, and serving army personnel or children in day care are at elevated risk of getting the infection. Pregnant women also belong to the category of high-risk individuals, due to the possibility of getting infected by listeria bacteria, which in turn could facilitate meningitis infections. Individuals with weakened immune system are also at risk of contracting the infection. For instance, patients diagnosed with AIDS, or individuals with a history of addiction to alcohol, or patients on certain immunosuppressant drugs are at risk of getting infected.

This also includes patients who have received organ transplants, which results in the use of immunosuppressant drugs. Individuals whose spleen has been removed are considered high risk category and it is important for such people to get vaccinated for protection.

Types of vaccines presently available

Different types of vaccinations are presently in use worldwide to fight and prevent the condition. Specific vaccines are intended for specific categories and are known to be effective for the specified condition. For instance, Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine is a vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization. This is intended for children after attaining the age of two months, and it is also recommended for adults who have had their spleen removed.  Another vaccine, Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for children below the age of two, and it is also recommended for children up to the age of five, who are considered at high risk of contracting the infection. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is recommended for adults for protection from bacterial meningitis. The other vaccine recommended is Meningococcal conjugate vaccine that is typically given to children between the ages of eleven and twelve, with booster doses administered subsequently. It is also recommended for patients who have been exposed to others who have been diagnosed with meningitis.

Possible meningitis vaccine side effects

The probability of side effects in medications and vaccines can never be ruled out entirely. This is because of the mechanism of action of the medications and the vaccines, or the properties of the active ingredients/compounds. Actual side effects may differ from person to person and depends on various factors such as the age, the strength of the medication or the vaccine, presence of other medical conditions overall health, and use of other medications. Some are likely to experience mild or moderate effects, while others are likely to experience strong or serious effects. The mild or moderate effects are generally commonly occurring and may not require any specific medical attention in most cases, with the exception of conditions that are persistent or intensifying.

Side effects that are serious in nature require medical intervention at the earliest, to prevent the condition from deteriorating quickly to a condition that is extremely serious. Another category of individuals exists; these are known to be free from all side effects whatsoever, and may receive the full benefits of the medication or vaccine without any complications.

Meningitis vaccines are relatively safe in nature and are not known to cause any serious side effect. However, this does not entirely rule out undesirable outcomes. Unwanted effects include pain at the site of injection, that may or may not be accompanied by a reddish appearance. This is not a cause for concern and will most likely resolve naturally in a few days. Recipients of the vaccine are also known to feel tired for no specific reason, in addition to throbbing headache. Pain in the joints or the muscles are also a possible effect of the vaccine.

As can be seen from the above, some of the side effects of the vaccine are more or less similar to the effects or symptoms that may be experienced by an individual who is affected with meningitis. This is because most vaccines involve the use of harmless amounts of proteins/bacteria of the actual infection, and are intended to trigger the response of antibodies to protect the body from infections in the future. The small amount is of a proportion that will be unable to cause the actual disease or condition, but sufficient enough to trigger the antibody response.

Mild problems such as nausea, bouts of diarrhea, fever, and extreme tiredness are more likely to last for a few days, and will resolve naturally. The mild effects are trivial when compared with the complications posed by meningitis. A distinct nature of the condition is the possibility of it worsening if left untreated. It makes it necessary to quickly identify the symptoms and seek suitable medical treatment at the earliest to prevent it from going out of hand.

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