World Meningitis Day: A Disease that Has a Vaccine

02 July, 2020
World Meningitis Day is celebrated every April 24 to shed some light on this disease. The good news is that there’s a vaccine to prevent bacterial cases. We explain all of this below!
 

World Meningitis Day is celebrated every year on April 24. Nowadays, beyond raising awareness about the disease, the emphasis has been on vaccination.

Meningitis is a disease with developed vaccines to prevent its bacterial forms. However, the spread of immunization isn’t the one recommended by medical associations, who are advocating increasing vaccinations.

You have to understand that this is a serious condition. Meningitis begins in the meninges of the brain. However, it can progress to sepsis and, consequently, death. The fatality rate of this disease is approximately 10%, which means that 10 out of every 100 infected patients die.

The repercussions are also pretty serious. Up to 30% of children with meningitis suffer from maturational delays and seizures. Loss of senses, such as vision and hearing, are also common consequences.

Meningitis vaccines can stop Haemophilus influenzae type B, meningococci, and pneumococcus, which are the main bacterial causes of this disease. Some countries include all these immunizations, while others only some.

 

But information is also important on World Meningitis Day. This is because, according to records from the Spanish Pediatric Association, more than 30% of people don’t know that meningitis can be prevented. This misinformation represents an obstacle to the spread of immunizations.

What’s meningitis?

World Meningitis Day is an opportunity to talk about this disease that causes meninges inflammation. These are layers of tissue that line the brain, separating it from the cranial bones, and the spinal cord, separating it from the vertebrae.

When the meninges become inflamed, they press on other structures. This causes the characteristic symptoms of the disease. The classic triad of meningitis consists of fever, headache, and a stiff neck. Precisely, one of the clinical tests to diagnose the disease is to try to mobilize the patient’s neck.

In young children under two, the diagnosis is more difficult. Sometimes, medical professionals suspect it when fever is accompanied by uncontrollable crying and a certain stiffness appears in the back of the neck. But, as we mentioned, it can go undetected for a long time.

 
A woman with a stiff neck.

Keep reading: 6 Meningitis Symptoms that Parents Shouldn’t Overlook

The causes of meningitis

Three main groups represent the infectious causes of meningitis: bacteria, viruses, and fungi. World Meningitis Day focuses on these causes. Bacterial meningitis is preventable with vaccines.

The bacteria that typically concentrate the majority of cases are:

  • Meningococcus. The bacterium’s official name is Neisseria meningitidis. Its target population is especially teens. It usually makes the news when there are epidemics in closed or contact communities, such as schools and nursing homes.
  • Pneumococcus. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the bacterium that, recently, is causing the most bacterial meningitis cases in babies. It’s a microorganism that not only causes meningitis but is also linked to pneumonia and other respiratory conditions.
 
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). This pathogen is no longer the most common cause of this disease among children under two, as its vaccine has had a great effect. It’s a clear example of the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.
A boy getting vaccinated.
Meningitis is a good example of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Find out more here: Encephalitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Meningitis vaccines

Vaccination is still the most effective method to stop infectious diseases. Of course, meningitis is another example of this.

World Meningitis Day reaffirms the need to develop vaccination schedules with all the different alternatives. The meningococcus vaccine should be added to the Haemophilus and pneumococcus vaccines, which are basically two:

  • Quadrivalent (ACWY) conjugate vaccine
  • Serogroup B meningococcal or MenB vaccines

In addition, it’s key for the population to be informed of these vaccines and immunize their children. The existence of unvaccinated people is a breeding ground for bacterial meningitis to continue to spread around the world. The existence of unimmunized people can lead to the mutation of microorganisms into wild forms that bypass the defenses of vaccines.

 

World Meningitis Day to fight disinformation

The World Meningitis Day campaigns aim to inform people about the benefits of vaccines. Although this is a highly preventable disease, prevention depends on medical professional associations, the political commitment to install the necessary vaccination capacity, and the community itself.

 
  • LaForce, F. Marc, et al. “Lessons from the meningitis vaccine project.” Viral immunology 31.2 (2018): 109-113.
  • McGill, Fiona, et al. “Acute bacterial meningitis in adults.” The Lancet 388.10063 (2016): 3036-3047.
  • Basta, Nicole E., and Hannah Christensen. “4CMenB vaccine effectiveness: reasons for optimism.” The Lancet 388.10061 (2016): 2719-2721.