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J Travel Med. 2005 Apr;12 Suppl 1:S22-9.

Meningococcal disease in international travel: vaccine strategies.

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  • 1Travellers' Health & Vaccination centre, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore.


International travel and migration facilitate the rapid intercontinental spread of meningococcal disease. Serogroup A, and to a lesser extent serogroup C, have been responsible for pandemics in the past (mainly in Africa), but in recent years there was an international outbreak due to W135 related to the Hajj pilgrimage. The high carriage rates, persistence and transmissibility, in combination with the high case fatality rate of the Hajj-associated W135 outbreak clone, certainly raise considerable concern about the public health consequences of widespread dissemination of this organism and the potential for future epidemics. Indeed, the now evolving W135 epidemic in Africa mandates that the bivalent meningococcal vaccine should be replaced by the tetravalent meningococcal vaccine, covering A, C, Y and W135 serogroups. The currently available polysaccharide tetravalent meningococcal vaccine, albeit associated with high seroconversion and efficacy rates, has several shortcomings: it is not immunogenic in young children, duration of protective immunity is short, and it has minimal or no effect on nasopharyngeal carriage and therefore transmission of the organism. Immunogenicity of polysaccharide vaccines can be improved by chemical conjugation to a protein carrier, thereby eliciting a T-cell-dependent antibody response. In contrast to polysaccharide vaccines, conjugate vaccines are immunogenic in young infants, induce long-term protection, and reduce nasopharyngeal carriage. The tetravalent conjugate vaccine will be a leap forward in the control of meningococcal epidemics in affected countries. It will also boost the uptake of meningococcal vaccines in travelers, because the duration of protection is longer and it eliminates the problem of immune hyporesponsiveness of serogroup C with repeated dosing. The small risk of travel-associated disease for the general traveler and the unpredictable nature of epidemics make it difficult to provide evidence-based vaccine recommendations. The current recommendation is to vaccinate all Hajj pilgrims, travelers to areas with current outbreaks, travelers to the sub-Saharan meningitis belt, and high-risk individuals (i.e., those with immunodeficiencies).

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