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Side Effects of the Meningitis Vaccine

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong•edited by: dianahardin•updated: 6/2/2011

Are you considering getting the meningitis vaccine? Find out more about meningitis vaccine side effects - and whether the vaccine is safe.

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    What should you know about meningitis vaccine side-effects? Bacterial meningitis is a serious, and sometimes deadly, infection involving the meninges of the brain or spinal cord. Even with treatment, bacterial meningitis can cause brain damage - or even death. Fortunately, there are two types of vaccines that defend against the meningococcal bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis, and they can help prevent this serious infection, which strikes mostly young people.

    Meningococcal meningitis is most common in adolescents, pre-teens and teens, and most doctors recommend that children and teens get the meningitis vaccine, especially if they’re living in close quarters with other children, such as in a college dormitory. But what about the risks and side-effects? Find out what you need to know about meningitis vaccine side-effects.

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    Common Side Effects

    All vaccines can potentially cause side-effects. Any time you introduce something foreign into your body, there are risks, but life-threatening reactions from the meningitis vaccine aren’t common. Side-effects can occur with either of the two forms of meningitis vaccine.

    According to information published on the Centers for Disease Control website, most meningitis vaccine side-effects are not serious. About fifty-percent of the people who get the vaccine have mild side-effects, usually local reactions involving pain, swelling and redness where the injection was given. These side-effects are typical of what you could see with any vaccine, and they usually resolve within a few days. Less commonly, a person will develop a low-grade fever after the meningitis vaccine, which usually goes away without treatment.

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    More Serious Conditions

    There are two other more serious meningitis vaccine side-effects, but, fortunately, they’re not common. A person who gets the meningitis vaccine can potentially develop an allergic reaction. When this occurs, the symptoms usually appear within minutes, up to hours, after receiving the vaccine. Symptoms include light-headedness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, tightness in the throat or difficulty breathing.

    Another serious meningitis vaccine side-effect is a disorder called Guillain-Barre, a syndrome that involves the central nervous system. It’s not completely clear whether the meningitis vaccine actually plays a role in the symptoms of Guillain-Barre, which include numbness, tingling and muscle weakness that starts in the lower extremities and moves up the body. If the muscle weakness affects the respiratory system, a person with this syndrome may need a respirator to breathe. Fortunately, if it's diagnosed promptly, the majority of people recover. Guillain-Barre is a very rare side-effect of the meningitis vaccine, if there is even a link.

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    The Bottom Line?

    Serious or life-threatening side-effects to the meningitis vaccine are rare, and when side-effects do occur they’re usually mild and localized to the injection site. People who have had an allergic reaction to another vaccine, who have a history of Guillain-Barre, are running a fever, are otherwise ill, or who are pregnant shouldn’t take the vaccine. For most people, the vaccine is safe and effective.

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    References

    Centers for Disease Control. “Meningococcal: Who Needs to Be Vaccinated?”

    Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.