Meningococcal Disease: Protect Your Child

Meningococcal Disease: Protect Your Child

Public health authorities recommend that teenagers and college-bound students be immunized against a potentially fatal bacterial infection called meningococcal disease, a type of meningitis.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading medical organizations recommend routine meningococcal immunization for adolescents during the preadolescent doctor’s visit (11- to 12-year-olds), adolescents at high school entry (15-year-olds) if they have not previously been immunized, and for college freshmen living in dormitories.

 

Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection that can cause severe swelling of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or a serious blood infection (meningococcemia).  Meningococcal disease strikes up to 3,000 Americans each year; nearly 30 percent of these cases are among teenagers and college students.

 

A meningococcal vaccine is available for use among persons aged 11 to 55 years, which provides protection against four of the five types of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease.  Many parents are unaware of the dangers the disease poses to their children and that a vaccine is available that may help to prevent up to 83 percent of cases among teens and college students.

Immunization is the most effective way to prevent this very serious disease

 

About Meningococcal Disease

 

Meningococcal disease is often misdiagnosed as something less serious because early symptoms are similar to common viral illnesses.  Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion, exhaustion and/or a rash.

 

Meningococcal disease is spread through direct contact with respiratory and/or oral secretions from infected persons (for example, kissing or sharing drinking containers).  It can develop and spread quickly throughout the body, so early diagnosis and treatment are very important.  Even with immediate treatment, the disease can kill an otherwise healthy young person within hours of first symptoms.  Of those who survive, up to 20 percent may endure permanent disabilities, including brain damage, deafness and limb amputations.

 

Lifestyle factors common among teenagers and college students are believed to put them at increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease.  These lifestyle factors include crowded living situations (for example, dormitories, sleep-away camps), active or passive smoking and irregular sleeping habits.  Teens should avoid sharing eating utensils and drinking out of the same container, since infections may spread through this type of close contact.

 

To learn more about meningococcal disease, vaccine information, and public health resources visit the following web sites.

  • www.cdc.gov – This CDC website includes the CDC recommendations and information on the meningococcal vaccine.


FACTS ABOUT MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE

 

Meningococcal Disease Snapshot

  • Meningococcal disease is a rare, but potentially deadly, bacterial infection that can take the form of meningitis (an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord) or meningococcemia (a blood infection).
  • Teenagers and college students account for nearly 30 percent of all reported cases of meningococcal disease in the U.S. 
  • This infection is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, a potentially life-threatening bacterium.
  • There are five clinically relevant meningococcal serogroups (or strains) circulating worldwide: A, B, C, Y and W-135.  Serogroups B, C and Y cause most disease in the U.S., but serogroup distribution changes over time.
  • The disease affects nearly 3,000 Americans annually and approximately 10 percent of people who contract meningococcal disease will die. 
  • Of those who survive, nearly 20 percent suffer long-term disabilities, including brain damage, deafness and limb amputations.

Meningococcal Disease Among Teenagers and College Students

  • Teenagers and college students have an unusually high death rate from the disease; nearly one of every four cases may result in death.
  • Lifestyle factors common among teenagers and college students are believed to put them at increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease.  These lifestyle factors include crowded living situations (e.g., dormitories, sleep-away camps), active or passive smoking and irregular sleeping habits.

Immunization Recommendations for Teenagers and College Students

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading medical organizations recommend routine meningococcal immunization for adolescents during the preadolescent doctor’s visit (11- to 12-year-olds), adolescents at high school entry (15-year-olds) if they have not previously been immunized, and for college freshmen living in dormitories.

Vaccination to Prevent Meningococcal Disease

  • A conjugate vaccine is available for adolescents and adults (aged 11 to 55 years) to protect against four of the five strains of bacterium that cause meningococcal disease.
  • In persons 15 to 24 years of age, up to 83 percent of cases are caused by potentially vaccine-preventable strains.
  • Medical experts anticipate the meningococcal conjugate vaccine may provide longer protection against the disease.  The previous meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine provided protection for three to five years.
  • Vaccination with the conjugate vaccine is safe.  The most commonly reported reactions are pain, redness and induration at the injection site (one to two days), headache, fatigue and malaise.
  • Clinical studies on the use of the conjugate meningococcal vaccine in children under age 11 and adults over 55 years are ongoing.  For those in these age groups at increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease, the older polysaccharide vaccine is a safe and effective option (only offers three to five years of protection).

Transmission and Symptoms of the Disease

  • Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through direct contact with secretions from infected persons (e.g., through coughing or kissing).  The majority of meningococcal disease cases occur in winter and early spring.
  • Meningococcal disease is often misdiagnosed, since symptoms are similar to those of common viral illnesses.  Symptoms may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion, exhaustion.