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What Parents of Every Teen Should Know About Meningitis

The most important thing parents of teens need to know about meningococcal disease is that it can be very serious.  And by serious, we mean debilitating and often deadly.

Even with prompt medical treatment, about 1 in 10 people with meningococcal disease will die from it. Of those who survive, about 1 to 2 will have permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations.

The best thing parents can do to protect their children from meningococcal disease is to get them vaccinated against all of the preventable forms of the disease.

 What causes meningitis and meningococcal disease?

Meningitis refers to a swelling of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.   While meningitis is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection, it can also be caused by injuries, cancer, certain drugs, and other types of infections.

Meningococcal disease is specific to any illness caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (also referred to as meningococcus or meningococcal meningitis).  These types of infections can cause meningitis, but can also cause bloodstream infections (known as bacteremia or septicemia).

It’s possible to have meningitis without having meningococcal disease, and it’s possibly to have a type of meningococcal disease that isn’t necessarily meningitis.  The specific cause of illness is important to identify because the treatment differs depending on the cause.

  • Bacterial forms of meningitis can be extremely dangerous and fast-moving and have the greatest potential for being fatal. The long-term effects of bacterial meningitis can include multiple amputations, hearing loss and kidney damage. Many, but not all, forms of bacterial meningitis can be prevented by vaccination.
  • Viral meningitis has similar symptoms to bacterial meningitis, but for the most part is neither as deadly nor as debilitating. There is no specific treatment available for viral meningitis, but most patients fully recover over time.
Meningococcal Disease Facts

Who is at risk?

While anyone can contract meningococcal disease, adolescents and young adults are among the population who have a higher risk for the disease due to their lifestyle factors.  For instance, the risk of meningococcal is higher for those who are living in crowded settings such as college dormitories, boarding schools, sleep-away camps or military barracks. Other factors that can raise the risk of infection include:

  • Attendance at a new school with students from geographically diverse areas
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Active or passive smoking
  • Social situations where there is crowding
  • Moving to a new residence

How is it spread?

About one in ten people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat without showing any signs or symptoms of the disease. These people can unknowingly transmit the bacteria to others through the exchange of respiratory secretions during close or lengthy contact with someone’s saliva, such as through kissing or coughing, especially if they are living in close quarters.  Although meningococcal bacteria are very dangerous, they cannot live outside the body for very long.  This means that while contagious, the infection is not as easily spread as a cold virus.

How can it be prevented?

Currently, vaccination is the best defense against meningococcal disease. There are five major serogroups of meningococcal disease (A, C, W, Y and B). The three most commonly seen in the United States are B, C and Y, with one-third of all cases in the U.S. being of serogroup B.

In order to be protected against all the preventable strains of meningococcal disease, teens need to receive multiple doses of two different kinds of meningococcal vaccines.

Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine (MenACWY):  Routine vaccination with the conjugate is recommended at age 11-12 to protect against serogroups A, C, W and Y. Adolescents should also get a vaccine booster dose at age 16.

Meningococcal Serogroup B Vaccine (MenB): This vaccine is recommended for people 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections including:

  • People at risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak.
  • Anyone whose spleen is damaged or has been removed.
  • Anyone with an immune system condition known as “persistent complement component deficiency”.
  • Anyone taking a drug called eculizumab (Soliris).
  • Microbiologists who routinely work with N. meningitidis isolates.

The CDC also recommends permissive use of the MenB vaccine for adolescents and young adults age 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18. A permissive recommendation means that it is at a doctor’s discretion whether they will recommend the vaccine to those who don’t fall into the categories listed above.  If a provider doesn’t feel the patient is at risk, they may fail to mention the availability of the vaccine.

This does not mean that a parent can’t request or receive the vaccine for their child.    

It’s critical that parents understand that serogroup B meningococcal disease is not only the most common cause of meningococcal disease in adolescents and young adults, but it has also cause several outbreaks on college campuses over the past few years.

Meningococcal Disease on U.S. College Campuses, 2013-2017

Graphic compiled by the National Meningitis Association

The vaccine has been deemed safe by the FDA, and has been recommended by the CDC, so parents should feel comfortable getting the vaccine for their child, especially if they feel they are at risk of exposure.  If a child is attending college, parents may want to take the precaution of getting them vaccinated before they arrive on campus.  In the case of an outbreak, the vaccine will be recommended.  However, if your child is exposed before the outbreak is identified than it may be too late to benefit from the vaccine.

What are the symptoms and can it be treated?

The symptoms of meningococcal disease are the same for all of the serogroups.  Unfortunately, it is not easy for healthcare professionals to identify and diagnose the infection in its early stages and it’s often mistaken for the flu or other viral infections.  Symptoms tend to develop over several hours or over one or two days, and may include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting or nausea with headache
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • Skin rash

Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics, but treatment must begin early to be effective. Even if treatment is started as soon as possible, it might not prevent death or serious long-term complications such as hearing loss, brain damage, kidney disease or limb amputations.

Today we are grateful for moms like the ones featured in this video who are helping to raise awareness about the two available meningococcal vaccines for adolescents and young adults. May their stories help parents to make educated decisions about disease prevention.

Visit the following websites for more information on the dangers of meningitis and how it can be prevented.

Vaccinate Your Family – PreTeens & Teens Meningococcal Disease

National Meningitis Association

The Kimberly Coffey Foundation

The Emily Stillman Foundation

Meningitis Angels

March Madness Requires Both Shots To Defeat Meningococcal Disease

This guest post was provided by the National Meningitis Foundation (NMA) and first appeared on their Parents Who Protect blog.  

 

As our obsession with basketball’s March Madness has progressed to the Final Four, our efforts to encourage “both shots” in the fight against meningococcal disease remain at center court.

While March is a time when basketball steals the headlines, it’s also a time when meningococcal disease steals our children.  In fact, while meningococcal disease can strike at any time of year, the number of cases peaks in the winter and early spring. Unfortunately, for many National Meningitis Association (NMA) members, such as the member of Moms on Meningitis (M.O.M.) and Together Educating About Meningitis (T.E.A.M), March is a time when we remember those we lost to meningococcal disease.

And there have been plenty of others who never got their “shot” at life.  

NMA March Madness Infogram

The higher incidence of meningococcal disease in March can be seen in the headlines of the last few years.

In March 2014, a Drexel University student died after visiting Princeton University, which was nearing the end of an outbreak that impacted eight students. In 2015, the University of Oregon was battling an outbreak of meningococcal disease with two additional cases appearing in March. In 2016, students at both Penn State and Rutgers University were hospitalized with meningococcal disease in March. This year there were cases on three college campuses by mid-March: Wake Forest UniversityOld Dominion University, and Oregon State University. There has also been an outbreak, at an elementary school in Virginia.

To rise to the challenge of this other recurring “March Madness”, we must increase our efforts to raise awareness of meningococcal disease and its prevention.

There are two kinds of vaccines that students need to be protected from meningococcal disease, the MenACWY vaccine and the MenB vaccine.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12 with a booster at age 16 (MenACWY).
  • CDC recommends permissive use of meningococcal vaccination against serogroup B at ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years (MenB). (Click here for more information.)

It’s important that students remain vigilant and be able to recognize the symptoms of meningococcal  disease including headache, fever, stiff neck, and a purplish rash, so that you can promptly seek medical attention.

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This March, let’s get on the ball and take “both shots” to prevent the other March Madness.

The National Meningitis Association is a nonprofit organization founded by parents whose children have died or live with permanent disabilities from meningococcal disease.  Their mission is to educate people about meningococcal disease and its prevention.  To stay informed about meningococcal disease and how to prevent it, follow The National Meningitis Association on Facebook and Twitter and be sure to subscribe to their Parents Who Protect blog.

 

 

Is Your College Student Protected from This Deadly but Preventable Disease?

December 21, 2016 1 comment

Parents often go to great lengths to help their children succeed in college.  What they may not realize is that their children often arrive on campus unprotected from a life threatening, yet preventable disease known as meningococcal serogroup B.  

Four women, known as the ‘MenB Strong Moms’,  became united on a mission to save others after their teen children died from meningococcal serogroup B before a vaccine was available to prevent the disease.  Through a special partnership between The Kimberly Coffey Foundation and The Emily Stillman Foundation, they produced the following Meningitis B Shatters Dreams PSA to educate young adults and their parents about the availability of the MenB vaccine and to encourage college kids to get vaccinated while home for winter break.

“Our kids have brought us together and their message is loud and clear in this PSA.” says Alicia Stillman, Director of The Emily Stillman Foundation.  “We don’t want parents to have to bury their children like we have, and we want kids to take it upon themselves to get protected and ask for the MenB vaccine.”

In the past few years, there have been outbreaks of meningococcal serogroup B on several U.S. college campuses.  This isn’t surprising considering that one out of ten people have the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms of disease.  Additionally, typical teen behaviors, such as living in close quarters, hanging out in large groups, sharing drinks or utensils, and kissing, all increase the risk of meningococcal disease.

And when meningococcal disease strikes, it strikes quickly.  In fact, one in ten teens and young adults who develop meningococcal disease will die from it, sometimes within 24 hours.  Those lucky enough to survive will often suffer significant physical and mental disabilities, ranging from deafness, nervous system problems, brain damage, or loss of limbs.

While most teens receive the recommended meningococcal vaccine known as MenACWY at age 16, or prior to attending college, the MenACWY vaccine does not prevent the serogroup B strain.  Since this B strain accounts for approximately half of all meningococcal cases in the U.S. among those age 17-22, the MenB Strong Moms believe it is imperative that young adults and their parents understand the options for prevention.  Unfortunately, although the MenB vaccine has been licensed for over a year, many doctors are still not mentioning it to their patients and therefore, most parents and young adults don’t realize the vaccine exists. Read more…

The State of the ImmUnion in Maine: Tweens, Teens and Vaccines

August 23, 2016 1 comment

Every Child By Two’s State of the ImmUnion campaign is honoring National Immunization Awareness Month (#NIAM16) with a Blog Relay highlighting the importance of vaccines across the lifespan and across the nation.

In this fourth guest post, we learn how Maine has made great strides in stepping up the state’s vaccination rates for infants, babies and young children to at or above national levels. But when it comes to adolescents, Maine – like many other states – still has some catching up to do.

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At Vax Maine Kids, they’re working hard to make sure parents know how to protect their childrenfrom several serious illnesses that can strike during the teen years.

DrGabeCivielloThis guest post by Franklin Health Pediatrics pediatrician, Dr. Gabe Civiello, highlights the importance of vaccines for preteens and teens and explains what Maine is doing to improve adolescent immunization rates.

By Gabriel Civiello, MD in collaboration with Vax Maine Kids

Healthcare providers all across Maine are celebrating the recent rebound in vaccination rates for our youngest children. In fact, our childhood immunization rates rank among the highest in the country. According to the 2014 National Immunization Survey, over 85% of Maine toddlers are up-to-date on their recommended vaccinations, and kindergarten non-medical exemption requests fell to 3.9% during the 2014-2015 school year.

Teenage Couple Sitting On Bench In Mall Taking SelfieThe trends aren’t quite as positive for Maine’s preteens and teens, however. Nationwide, as children grow into their preteen and teen years, under immunization becomes much more common—and Maine is no exception. In fact, Maine’s vaccination rates for the meningococcal vaccine and the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine are below the national average and the lowest in New England. Following the national trend, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine rates in Maine are at least half of the rates of the other adolescent vaccines.

Why are immunization rates lower for Maine teens?

  • Preteens and teens have lower attendance at well child visits. If they aren’t seeing their healthcare provider on a regular basis, they and their parents aren’t being reminded of the CDC-recommended vaccination schedule (and the importance of sticking to it). When teens see a provider solely for sick visits or emergencies, vaccinations may not come up in the discussion as often as they should.
  • Critical vaccines for teens are not required for school attendance in Maine. Teens are allowed to attend school without getting the meningococcal vaccine and the HPV vaccine, and Maine is one of only three states that doesn’t require the Tdap vaccine. By leaving these vaccines out of school requirements, parents may get the impression that their children don’t need them.
  • The HPV vaccine remains as poorly understood and under-utilized (by families and providers), in Maine as it is elsewhere in the country. We aren’t communicating the importance of safely vaccinating adolescents against the common cancers caused by the HPV virus before they become sexually active as well as we could.

StateoftheImmunion_HPV_Final_FB

There is good news for Maine teens in the NIS data, however. Our HPV vaccination rates are higher than the national average. This tells us that Maine parents and providers want to protect our children all the way into adulthood, and that HPV vaccine rates will likely improve with better communication about the vaccine.

 Which diseases threaten Maine teens, and which vaccines can protect them?

There are four vaccines that are routinely recommended for all preteens between 11 and 12 years of age. Teens also need a booster dose of meningococcal vaccine at age 16, and teens may also need additional vaccines based on risk factors, travel, or if they missed previous doses. The vaccines routinely recommended for preteen and teen girls and boys are:

  • Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against four types of meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria and is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis – a serious infection around the brain and spinal cord – in teens and young adults. Two doses are needed for full protection.
  • HPV vaccine, which protects against several types of HPV. HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vulva and vagina in females and cancers of the penis in males. In both females and males, HPV infection can also lead to head/neck cancers, anal cancer and genital warts. Three doses are needed for full protection.
  • Tdap vaccine, which is a booster shot against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Pertussis (whooping cough) can keep kids out of school and activities for weeks. Infants, for whom pertussis can be deadly, are often infected by an older sibling or adult. A Tdap vaccine is recommended between the ages of 11-12 (with boosters for tetanus and diphtheria (Td) needed every 10 years throughout adulthood).
  • Flu vaccine, because even healthy kids can get influenza, and it can be serious. All preteens and teens, should get the flu vaccine every year.

What is Maine doing to raise awareness of and access to the immunizations Maine teens need?instagram_preteens_teens

Read more…