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Can Meningitis Be Prevented?

Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 14:42

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Apart from vaccination, there is no known way to protect against meningitis. Although there is little people can do to prevent meningitis, they can limit its devastating health effects by recognizing the symptoms of the disease and seeking immediate medical treatment.



Prevention for viral meningitis


Some forms of bacterial meningitis can be prevented through immunization. These vaccines include:

Haemophilus influenza type B: The Hib vaccine, which has reduced Hib meningitis cases by 95 percent since 1985, is given to U.S. children in three doses (at 2, 3, and 4 months old).

Meningococcal meningitis caused by strains A, C, Y and W135: The vaccine currently offers no protection against strain B, and it's effective for only 3 to 5 years. It is recommended for:

  • All college students (unless pregnant), especially those ages 18 to 24.
  • People in close contact with individuals suffering from these strains of meningitis.
  • People traveling to Africa or other parts of the world where these types of meningitis are prevalent. The vaccine is not very effective in small children.

Pneumococcal meningitis: Given to people at risk because of conditions such as chronic ear disease, head injury, immune deficiency or the absence of a spleen.

Need To Know

As a preventative measure, doctors will vaccinate people in close contact with a person infected with bacterial meningitis. These people include members of the household or dormitory, boyfriends, girlfriends, babysitters and grandparents.

Those with less close contact, such as coworkers and classmates, are not usually at significant risk and rarely require vaccination.

Nice To Know

Q. My daughter is going to college this fall. I've read about meningitis outbreaks on campuses. Is there anyway to protect my daughter from the disease?

A. Before she leaves for school, it is prudent to have her immunized against meningococcal meningitis. It's effective for 3 to 5 years, and is recommended for all college students (unless pregnant), especially those ages 18 to 24.


In the event that there is no vaccination available (for example, in cases of strain B meningococcal meningitis) people in close contact with the infected person are often given antibiotics such as rifampicin to keep them from acquiring the dangerous germ. Another antibioticciprofloxacin, may be given to older children and adults.

Rifampicin may cause mild stomach upset and a darkening of the urine. It usually must be taken for just two days and provides significant protection. Rifampicin may also be given to the infected person if there is a chance that the germ may still be present following recovery from a meningitis infection.

Sometimes the families of small children with serious haemophilus infections are given a four-day course of rifampicin.

Prevention For Viral Meningitis

There is no immunization available against viral meningitis. However, routine childhood vaccinations against mumps and polio have virtually eliminated infection from those viruses, which cause the most serious types of viral meningitis.

Since most cases of viral meningitis are caused by enteroviruses,you can prevent infection by washing your hands regularly, especially after changing diapers or coming into contact with feces. It can also be prevented by carefully washing and preparing food. This includes eating foods by the "sell by" or "eat by" dates, and by thoroughly reheating chilled foods before consumption.

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