What is the Meningitis C (MenC) Jab?

There are a number of different injections used to immunise children in the UK against contagious and potentially harmful diseases. One of these is the MenC jab, an injection that immunises against meningitis C, a serious infection of the lining of the brain. In this article we will look at the MenC jab and what exactly it does to protect children and adults from meningitis C.

What is meningitis C?

Meningitis C, also known as meningococcal C, belongs to a class of infections that affect the lining of the brain, a structure called the meninges. The meninges is means to protect the brain from all manner of impact, and when it swells up as a result of infection, it puts the brain at risk of injury and damage.

The disease can actually be caused by a number of different bacteria, viruses, fungi, microorganisms called protozoa, and even some drugs. The cause of the disease usually affects how quickly symptoms occur and how severe those symptoms are.

Meningitis is classed as a medical emergency because of the risk posed by potential damage to the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms are usually a headache accompanied by a fever, stiffness in the neck (caused by an inflammation of the meninges around the spinal cord), vomiting, photophobia (light intolerance), phonophobia (sound intolerance), and in some cases a distinctive rash. The rash is diagnostically useful and can indicate the cause of the disease as it is usually caused by meningococcal bacteria.

A diagnosis can be reached through the use of a technique called ‘lumbar puncture’, which is where a specially designed needle is used to carefully penetrate a vertebra and collect some of the fluid near the spinal cord (called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF). The CSF is then examined in a lab and results returned as quickly as possible. Treatment is usually antiviral or antibiotic drugs depending on the cause of the infection.

Meningitis can leave survivors with lifelong disabilities including deafness, cognitive issues, and epilepsy if not treated quickly and effectively. Because of how quickly the disease can strike, preventative measures are invaluable when it comes to protecting the public from meningitis.

What is the vaccination process for meningitis C?

Vaccination against meningitis C is performed using the meningococcal C conjugate vaccine (usually abbreviated to MenC) here in the UK. This is a very effective injected immunisation technique which protects against a class of bacteria that cause meningitis referred to as meningococcal group C bacteria.

MenC is an important part of the childhood immunisation program and is first given to babies at the age of 3 months. This is followed up by two booster shots at the ages of four and 12 months, the last of which is given as a combination vaccine alongside an immunisation for Haemophilus influenzae type B.

MenC is also given to people under the age of 25 who have not been immunised against the disease. It is also offered to people who have not been immunised and are  travelling to countries where meningitis is prevalent.

Because of the type of vaccine used, three doses are needed to achieve sufficient immunity against the disease.

What kind of vaccine is the MenC immunisation?

The MenC jab is a conjugate vaccine which can provide long term protection from meningococcal bacteria if all the recommended booster doses are given/received. Conjugate vaccines are made up of particular components derived from meningococcal bacteria called antigens, these are markers that the body’s defences recognise as harmful and which therefore stimulate a strong immune reaction against the disease.

Many bacteria possess a unique coating from which antigens can be derived, and once these have been included in a vaccination, they can immunise a person against the disease without any risk of a meningitis infection.

Thus far MenC has proven an extremely safe vaccine and has been tolerated extremely well by all age groups tested. Side effects are rare and mild, usually limited to some soreness around where the injection was delivered.

MenC can be given alongside other vaccinations, and is often scheduled alongside a number of different routine immunisations.

Meningitis is a serious concern in the UK and the wider world because of how quickly the disease can set in. These infections are always serious and life threatening, and while treatment and detection are both improving, preventing the disease is still the best way to protect the public from severe sickness and potential disability. Since its introduction in 1999, the MenC vaccination has decreased the number of cases of meningitis C reported in the UK by a staggering 99%.

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