Meningitis is infection of the lining of the brain (the meninges) and can be caused by a range of organisms including amoeba, viruses and bacteria. Meningococcal meningitis is one particular bacterial form that is very swift and very severe. There are many strains, and five main groups that cause disease – A, B, C, W and Y. Most people are aware it’s a very severe disease with a high fatality rate. It is spread from one person to another like a cold. The carrier may remain well.
Can I be vaccinated against Meningococcal Meningitis
All five strains of meningococcal are vaccine preventable.
In Australia meningitis peaks initially in the early years, and again in late teens. Infants in Australia are routinely vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis type C, which provides long term protection. As a consequence, rates of type C have dropped significantly and are now rare. Type B has been the most common. A vaccine against this has been developed in recent years but is very expensive and yet to be funded by the Government. In Perth type W has become increasingly common in recent years. There are about 20 cases of meningococcal disease a year in WA.
Meningococcal meningitis in travellers is quite rare, but devastating, and often fatal. The African meningitis belt below the Sahara Desert, has meningococcal outbreaks annually in the dry season between December and June, and travel to this area requires cover with a broad meningococcal vaccine that provides cover against four strains – A C W and Y.
Outside the African meningitis belt, outbreaks of meningococcal disease also occur. These are usually associated with overcrowding and smoky environments. Examples include school boarding houses, university dormitories and army barracks –situations where a large number of people from far afield all come together and sleep in crowded accommodation. It is a mandatory vaccine for pilgrims to Mecca as a consequence of outbreaks in previous years. It can be a useful vaccine for young people doing voluntary work in orphanages and schools. Modes of travel and accommodation as well as destination are therefore factors to be taken into account when considering vaccination.