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Let’s talk about meningococcus and herpes

The 2023 vaccination schedule of the National Health System includes, for the first time, immunization against two infections: the one caused by the meningococcal bacterium and intended for babies, and against the herpes zoster virus, for over 65s. Let’s take a closer look at these diseases.

These are the meningococcal and herpes zoster infections included in the 2023 vaccine schedule

PHOTO EFE/Alejandro García

The Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE) has launched a guide to publicize the novelties of the 2023 vaccine calendar which also establishes the extension of the flu vaccine to all minors between 6 and 59 months on an annual basis.

Until now the vaccine schedule did not contemplate get vaccinated against the flu the entire pediatric population, only children and adolescents (between 6 months and 17 years) who had risk conditions.

The SEE values ​​this expansion, as the vaccine will reduce the burden of disease and the intensity of community-wide transmission of influenza.

It also establishes the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) for baron children from the age of 12 to reduce cancers of the anus, penis and mouth, which are closely related to HPV, and will reduce the transmission of the virus in the community

Until now, the HPV vaccine was administered only to women to prevent cervical cancer.

Meningococcal disease, a bacteria that causes serious infection

The 2023 vaccine schedule includes meningococcal serogroup B vaccine, which is given to children aged 2, 4 and 12 months.

Serogroup B is the one that produces the highest incidence rates, especially in children under 5 years of age (specifically in children under 4 months of age).

The lethality of this serogroup was 6% in the 2020-2021 season in Spain, according to the SEE.

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis or meningococcus, although the risk of developing the disease is low and decreases with increasing age.

Clinical manifestations:

Most frequent:

  • Meningitis (infection and inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
  • Sepsis (occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs)

Less frequent:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Occult febrile bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the bloodstream of children with fever without obvious foci of infection)
  • Septic arthritis
  • Chronic meningococcemia

What is herpes zoster?

Public health has included the herpes zoster vaccine in people older than 65 years, which is administered with a schedule of two doses separated by an interval of at least eight weeks.

Herpes zoster is the local manifestation that appears when a latent varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection is reactivated.

After primary infection, the VVZ becomes localized to the neurons of the sensory ganglia of the dorsal roots of the spinal cord or the ganglia of the cranial nerves.

It is characterized by a localized unilateral vesicular rash that evolves into crusts with pain, paresthesias (tingling sensation) and itching.

The lesions are limited to areas of the skin innervated by the sensitive nerves of the affected ganglia and are usually located in the nose, mouth and eyes, chest and cervical area.

Cold sores, vaccination schedule
Cold sores are usually transmitted by oral contact. Image provided by DosFarma.

The most important complication of herpes zoster is the pain that accompanies acute neuritis (inflammation of the nerves) and postherpetic neuralgia (acute pain due to involvement of a nerve), especially in immunocompromised and older people.

An older adult with shingles is more likely to have neuralgia and have more intense and longer pain than a younger person.

People who are immunosuppressed or have certain underlying diseases have a higher risk of developing shingles at any age when compared to the general population. These people also more often experience severe disease progression or complications

In Spain, more than 90% of adults have developed chickenpox and may have the complete VVZ genome latent in 5% of their neurons, according to the SEE guide.

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