There is an important new development in the fight against meningococcal meningitis. While this most serious infection can occur in almost anyone, it has a peak incidence in children <1 yr and then in later teen years. Those living in group residence situations–like college dormitories and military barracks–present a greater risk which is why we have focused our immunization efforts on that age cohort.
In 2013, there were 530 cases in the US (0.18/100,000 population). 10-15% will die from the infection and 11-19% more will suffer permanent injury like deafness, brain damage, or loss of limbs/digits.
Fortunately, we have been immunizing teenagers since 2004–age 11 and again at 16–with meningococcal vaccine generically named MPS4–covering 4 strains of the bacteria (A,C, Y, W-135). Unfortunately, this vaccine does not cover the dangerous B strain (MenB) of the bacteria which is responsible for 1/3 of all meningococcal outbreaks. And we have still seen outbreaks of MenB at colleges throughout the US. Yearly there are still 110-188 cases of MenB.
Happily, we pediatricians can finally do something about this. There are now 2 vaccines available that are effective at preventing MenB. They are approved for usage in individuals aged 10-25, 2 doses administered at least 1 month apart. Generally, most pediatricians are giving the shot at age 16 and thereafter. The MenB vaccines have been in use since 2013 in Europe, Canada, Australia and Brazil. Side effects are generally mild–muscle pain, redness, fatigue, headache, fever. 13-18% will experience joint pain or nausea and 7-8% will experience “severe” pain. In one study of 3058 patients one child developed anaphylaxis. All of those problems were otherwise self limited and resolved on their own with only supportive measures like acetaminophen. Rarely, as with any vaccine, a patient may faint post-shot; while scary and upsetting, this too has no lasting adverse effects.
This is a real advance in our arsenal to stop a deadly disease. Please call me with any questions or to schedule your child to receive MenB vaccine. And thanks for following.