Why we vaccinate: to prevent meningococcal disease


Update of 24 September 2013 article to address outbreak at Princeton University.

Meningococcal disease usually refers to a group of diseases caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, typically known as meningococcus. The most common illness arising from the bacterial infection is meningococcal meningitis (or just meningitis, even though there are non-bacterial forms meningitis, unrelated to this form). In meningococcal meningitis, the lining of the brain and spinal cord have become infected with these bacteria. These bacteria also have a causative role in other serious infections, such as bacteremia or septicemia, which are blood-borne infections.

Meningococcus bacteria are easily spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. The bacteria can pass quickly from one individual to another in close quarters, for example, schools and dormitories. Although the disease can be very serious, it can be treated with antibiotics that prevent the more severe forms of the illness and can reduce the spread of infection from person to person. 

If meningococcus isn’t treated quickly (or prevented by vaccines), the disease can be disabling or even fatal. And if the infection spreads to the blood, the consequences can be quite severe, requiring hospitalization. Meningococcal disease cannot be treated at home with over the counter or woo-based remedies. In fact, the symptoms of the early stages of the infection can mimic less dangerous infections, and require a physician’s diagnostic tools to rule out other less-serious infections. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate: to prevent meningococcal disease”