We’ve seen news reports recently of college campus outbreaks of bacterial meningitis, which is a meningococcal disease that can become life-threatening quickly, and teens are at high risk of getting it. Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, so with your teens home now on winter break, it’s a good time to talk about reducing their risk of contracting meningitis by making sure their vaccinations are up-to-date.
Are meningitis and meningococcal disease the same thing?
The term meningitis is used to broadly refer to bacterial meningococcal disease, which is any illness caused by bacteria known as meningococcus. The thing to remember is that these illnesses are often severe, can advance quickly and can be deadly. The bacteria causing meningitis are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions – in other words, spit, kissing or living in close quarters with someone who’s infected.
You mentioned the meningitis outbreaks on college campuses – is that common?
No, outbreaks of meningococcal disease are rare in the United States, only 2-to-3 out of every 100 cases are related to an outbreak. Only two campus outbreaks have been recorded this year – Oregon State University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. But typical college living conditions – dormitories, Greek houses and group apartments – can foster the spread the bacteria and create an outbreak, the outcomes of which are unpredictable and potentially devastating.
What are symptoms parents should watch for?
The first signs appear to be a flu-like illness – fever, headache, stiff neck – but rapidly worsen and may include vomiting, nausea, confusion and photophobia, which means your eyes become very sensitive to light. It may be hard to identify these symptoms in newborns and babies, but watch young children for signs of inactivity, irritability, vomiting or poor feeding. If you see these symptoms and suspect meningitis, seek medical attention immediately, since bacterial meningitis infections are very serious and can be deadly in a matter of hours.
So, what’s the best way to protect our kids against meningitis?
Your best defense against meningococcal disease is keeping your children up-to-date with recommended immunizations. Pre-teens and teens have the highest risk, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a meningococcal vaccine at 11 to 12 years of age, followed by a booster dose for teenagers at 16 years old. Teens and young adults, age 16-to-23, also may be vaccinated with a serogroup B vaccine. Certain groups of babies, children and adults also may face increased risk and need vaccinations – talk to your doctor to find out if you or your children need the shot. And if you learn that someone you have been in close contact with has contracted meningitis, talk to your health provider about receiving antibiotics to protect you from contracting the disease.
A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on KBOI Newsradio 670 AM in Boise. This is the transcript from the Jan. 2, 2018 broadcast.