New variant of meningitis: contagiousness, risks, treatment… everything you need to know

An unprecedented vaccination campaign has just started in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It particularly targets young people aged 16 to 24 and children aged 0 to 2, following the emergence of a variant of meningococcus B which infected a dozen people in a few months and caused one death.

No less than 56,000 people, adolescents, young adults and young parents, have received or will receive in the coming days a letter from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Regional Health Agency, encouraging them to get closer to their attending physician. to get vaccinated against meningococcal B.

Common points of these populations: they reside in the sectors of Chambéry and eastern Lyon, where a dozen cases (including one fatal) were detected in a few months, the last two at the end of July. And they are part of the populations at risk identified by the ARS. Parents of children aged 0 to 2 years, the Agency asks to “ensure that their child has been vaccinated, in accordance with the new recommendations of the High Authority for Health (HAS)”. This vaccine has been recommended since this year, and is not part of the compulsory vaccines.

As for adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 24, they belong to the age group of people infected with the new meningococcal B variant, which would be neither more contagious nor more contaminating than the previous ones, and which would be well covered by vaccines targeting pathogenic serogroup B strains. But what exactly are we talking about?

Bacteria present in the throat

Meningococcus B is actually a bacteria normally present in the throat and nose of many people. It can be transmitted by air or by saliva, which requires close (less than one meter) and prolonged (at least one hour) contact with a patient or a healthy carrier. Most often, recalls the Ministry of Health, meningococci do not cause any particular diseases. “But in some cases, they can cause very serious illnesses.”

We speak of meningitis when the meningococcus infects the fluid and membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. And meningococcal sepsis when it spreads throughout the body. It then causes “a generalized infection of the blood and various organs”. It is a vital emergency.

Antibiotic treatment

Fever, severe headaches often accompanied by vomiting, are the main symptoms of an invasive meningococcal infection. “The sick person may also have impaired consciousness, a pale or even gray face color, diarrhea in addition to fever and vomiting, intolerance to light or noise, stiff neck, body aches significant, great fatigue, significant drowsiness, ocular paralysis or convulsions”.

The rapid appearance of one or more red or purplish spots on the body is a serious sign that requires urgent transfer to hospital. “The seriousness and the risk of rapid development of meningococcal infections require the implementation of antibiotic treatment as quickly as possible”, explains the Institut Pasteur. This is done intravenously and is usually continued for 4-7 days.

As for prevention, it essentially involves vaccination “in subjects at risk and in specific situations (grouped cases and epidemics)”. Or the current situation in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

Note: as part of this campaign, the vaccine against meningococcal B is reimbursed at 100%. Vaccination includes a first injection and a booster with a period of at least one month between the two injections.

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