Meningitis, or “meningococcal disease,” is a condition that involves an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Bacteria, a virus, or a fungal infection could all cause this condition. Some forms of the disease can be dangerous. If you recover from it (which approximately 85% of victims do), you face possible serious aftereffects, such as paralysis, hearing problems, and seizures.
Fortunately, there are vaccines available that can protect you against most strains of meningitis. However, are some of these preventative medicines posing a different threat to your health?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently discovered three new cases of a neurological disease that is linked to a meningitis vaccine. This latest information comes from the CDC’s journal, Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report.
This phenomenon was first suggested in October 2005, when five cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) were reported in people who had been given the MCV4 (“Menactra”) vaccine to protect against meningitis.
GBS, which is also known as “Landry’s ascending paralysis,” is an inflammatory condition affecting the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include sudden weakness and paralysis of the legs, arms, face, eyes, and even the muscles involved in breathing. The disorder can come on quickly.
An affected person is often required to go on a breathing machine, as their lungs are too weak to function independently. Most GBS victims are able to recover, although it can take weeks or even months. Plus, it can also take a long time to recuperate fully, and some people may need the use of a wheelchair or other assistance.
Doctors don’t really know what causes GBS, exactly, although it is speculated that certain cases are brought on by exposure to some kind of viral or bacterial infection, or even a faulty autoimmune response. The true link between the syndrome and MCV4 remains murky.
According to the CDC, approximately 2,600 people get meningitis on an annual basis. It is still the CDC’s recommendation that you get a MCV4 injection if you are in a high-risk group for meningitis. If you are traveling to an area where meningitis is a big problem (e.g. parts of Africa), have an immune system disorder, have had your spleen removed, or if you’re a student living in a dormitory or you are a military recruit, then you should get the vaccine.
Infants are also at high risk for the disease. MCV4 is routinely given to children aged 11 to 12 or 15. If you’re concerned about the risks of receiving a meningitis vaccine, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.