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The World Health Organization Plans To Defeat Meningitis By 2030: What Parents Should Know

“It is time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all.”

Given the current rise in reported Covid-19 cases, it’s understandable if the Coronavirus is at the top of your mental worry list. But it may be reassuring to know that scientists around the world haven’t dropped their attention on other diseases. In a recent initiative, the World Health Organization (WHO) vowed to defeat meningitis by the year 2030, and has laid out plans to help countries around the world both stop its spread and mitigate its effects on those who contract the often deadly disease.

“Wherever it occurs, meningitis can be deadly and debilitating; it strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a press release this fall. “It is time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all — by urgently expanding access to existing tools like vaccines, spearheading new research and innovation to prevent, detecting and treating the various causes of the disease, and improving rehabilitation for those affected.”

When not attended to, meningitis can prove deadly for up to 50% of patients, reported the WHO. The good news? According to the organization, “Several vaccines protect against meningitis, including meningococcal, Haemophilus influenzae type b and pneumococcal vaccines.” While steps to wiping out the disease may vary by country, in the U.S., the CDC recommends the MenACWY vaccination for all 11 through 18 year olds. There’s also the Meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine, but considering it’s a newer vaccine (approved for use in the U.S. in 2014), and is recommended for 16- to 23-year-olds, caregivers might need to proactively visit a doctor with their teens and ask about getting it, says Dr. Iriny Salib, vaccine researcher and educator at the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Not only can meningitis be fatal, but cases can have life-changing complications, explains Dr. Ashlesha Kaushik, a pediatric infectious disease expert and national spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). To stay proactive about prevention, you can talk to your healthcare providers and ask about your vaccination options, especially if you’re a parent or caregiver to a tween, teen, or young adult.

What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a complex disease, involving swelling around the brain and spinal cord, and the causes can be bacterial, viral and fungal. Especially if it has resulted from a bacterial infection, Meningitis can be fatal.

While the symptoms of meningitis can be like the ones you get with a flu (for those over the age of 2), a stiff neck, headache, high fever, and potential rash are red flags. Because bacteria-caused meningitis can be so dangerous, and because it might only be a matter of hours before they become life-threatening, it’s best to head straight to a doctor or Emergency Room if experiencing these types of symptoms.

What Is Bacterial Meningitis?

This is a type of meningitis that’s caused by bacteria. Bacterial meningitis can lead to death, and potentially life-changing complications in survivors. Four types of bacteria can lead to bacterial meningitis, the Mayo Clinic shared: streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus; meningococcus, or neisseria meningitidis, which can prompt meningococcal meningitis; haemophilus influenczae type b (or Hib), and listeria (or listeria monocytogenes).

Bacteria like this can be spread via respiratory particles, or substances that come from the throat, shared the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So spreading the bacteria is more likely if you’re living with a carrier, or constantly close to them. “Anyone can get Meningitis, [but] the disease does peak in adolescence,” Salib tells Romper, noting that teenagers’ “risk-based behaviors” — like living in close quarters in a college dorm or with roommates — tend to increase a little bit at that age.

How Can We Get Vaccinated Against Meningitis?

Today Americans can have access to protective vaccines against meningococcal, pneumococcal, and Hib. But people might have to be proactive, and learn about these vaccines, and when to see a doctor to receive them.

Specifically, the MenACWY vaccine, and the Meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine offer protections against meningococcal disease. The CDC recommends the MenACWY vaccination for all 11 through 18 year olds. The first dose of the MenACWY is given at age 11 or 12, says Kaushik; the CDC recommends a a booster dose at 16.

Per the CDC, “Teens and young adults (16 through 23 year olds) may also be vaccinated with a serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine, preferably at 16 through 18 years old.” Kaushik explains, “You may consider giving the Meningococcal B vaccine in a shared decision-making manner.” So talk to your doctors, discuss everyone’s medical histories and preexisting health conditions, and figure out if and when your family members might receive one. “I’m in favor of giving it,” says Kaushik.

How Can I Learn More About Meningitis?

There’s a deep pool of information you can dive into to get educated and make the best decisions for yourself, and for your family. From government organizations, to specialized foundations, these three resources can help you learn about meningitis, its varied causes, symptoms, and the preventative vaccines that are available in America. You’ll also find age guidelines, so you can discuss with your healthcare team if and when your kiddos can get vaccinated. “Vaccination is [among] the best ways to protect against infectious diseases including meningitis,” says Kaushik.

  • World Health Organization

For a truly global view of this disease, the WHO provides insights into their ongoing initiatives to beat meningitis, and save hundreds of thousands of lives.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC website offers a wealth of information, including in-depth overviews of all of the vaccinations offered, and the different types of bacteria that could lead to Meningitis.

  • Ask2BSure

Sponsored by the pharmaceutical company GSK, this campaign promotes awareness of the Meningitis B vaccination and encourages people to talk to their doctors and learn about the MenB vaccine.


Ashlesha Kaushik, MD, FAAP, pediatric infectious disease expert, national spokesperson for the AAP, Iowa AAP board member, CDC Childhood Immunization Champion for Iowa

Dr. Iriny Salib, vaccine researcher and educator at GlaxoSmithKline

Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify the recommended age range for receiving the MenB vaccination.