Updated: Aug 23
The meningitis vaccine has been a safe way to protect college and high school students from the debilitating and dangerous meningitis illness. The disease is high contagious and very dangerous to those infected.
Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation and infection of the meninges of the brain. The meninges are the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. There is actually a viral form of the illness and bacterial form. The viral form is much less contagious and relatively free of sequelae or side effects of the illness once the brain has healed.
Bacterial meningitis on the other hand is a different story. This infection affects more men than women and the highest risk group are the elderly, children under five, people with chronic illnesses and those living in close quarters such as college and high school students.
The disease is caused when blood carries the infection to the brain and spinal cord. The bacteria is spread from person to person through droplets or secretions from the lungs and nose of an infected person. For example through kissing, coughing or sneezing. Although the bacteria isnít as contagious as the common cold the side effects are much more significant.
The meningitis vaccine was developed to help contain the spread of the disease and therefore decrease the number of student suffering. There has been one side effect noted the meningitis vaccine rash that is a rare side effect. The disease also causes a rash that appears differently than the rash from the vaccine.
The meningitis vaccine rash has appeared as a hypersensitivity reaction, erythema multiforme minor between 1 and 2 weeks after receiving the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. A history of this meningitis vaccine rash should alert medical professionals to more serious complications such as erythema multiforme major or Stevens-Johnson syndrome with re-inoculation. Repeated booster vaccinations should only be done if the benefit outweighs the risk.
The meningitis disease will also cause a rash that is a result of septicemia, or wide spread infection in the blood that will affect other organs and cause a major system shut down and ultimately death. The rash from septicemia is actually not a rash but rather a condition called petechiae. These are small red round areas that appear to be a rash but are flush to the skin and are actually under the skin.
These petechiae donít blanch with pressure. In other words they donít get white and return to red with the administration and release of pressure. Other symptoms of meningitis include high fever and chills, headache, stiff neck or back, nausea and vomiting, seizures or confusion and hallucinations.
The diagnosis is made on an assessment of the history, physical and test such as a spinal tap, blood tests and a CT scan. In many cases the disease is considered so significant that physicians will start antibiotic therapy before receiving the results of the tests to start treatment as early as possible. With early diagnosis and treatment the chances of recovery with minimal to no brain cell damage is good.
If you or someone you are caring for appears to be very sick seek medical care immediately. Don't wait for a rash or other symptoms to appear. Doctors would much rather the illness be the flu and send you home with supportive care than to find that the individual is severely brain damaged or dies because care was delayed.
Department of Health and Human Services: Possible Side-Effects from Vaccines
Patient: Meningococcal Vaccines
NHS: Meningococcal C Vaccine Fact Sheet
Seattle Children's Hospital: Immunization Reactions
The Journal of Infection: Meningitis Without a Petechial Rash in Children in the Hib Vaccine Era
Minnesota Department of Health: Meningococcal Disease and the Vaccine