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Meningitis is one of the few infections that can kill your child within hours. If you’re lucky, it lingers, taking a leg or a kidney but leaving you with your son or daughter.

It’s just plain scary. Of all of the vaccine preventable diseases we’ve learned about through at PKIDs, meningococcal disease is the one we most fear.

Anyone can become infected, but it’s most common in babies under the age of one, and in teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 21.

A strain that we’re seeing more of in the US, meningitis B, made its presence felt recently among our older kids.

The outbreaks of meningitis at university campuses in New Jersey, California, and elsewhere remind us that we now have vaccines to fight this strain and we need to use them.

Meningitis can be a swift and vicious infection. What’s surprising to us is that, each year, only about half of teens get immunized against this disease. As more states make such vaccination mandatory for school entry, we’ll see this percentage rise to an acceptable level that will stop this horrible disease.

As parents, we need to make sure our babies and our teens and young adults get the protection they deserve. Our older kids are at greater risk of becoming infected with bacterial meningitis when living in close quarters with large groups of people, such as youth campers, dorm residents, or military barrack inhabitants.

Also at risk are individuals whose immune systems are compromised, travelers to regions where meningococcal disease is common, and people exposed to others who are currently infected and infectious.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,000-2,600 Americans get meningitis every year. Of those infected, 10-15 percent will die. Even if the disease is quickly diagnosed and treated, 11-19 percent of survivors will experience life-changing consequences, such as loss of hearing or limbs, strokes, or seizures.

Because meningitis initially mimics flu symptoms, it can be hard to diagnose it in time to save a life.

The viruses and bacteria that cause meningitis can spread in many ways, including through a kiss or a cough, a sneeze or a sip on a shared straw.

We know there are no guarantees, but to avoid infection, you do the same things you do when you’re trying to avoid influenza:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Keep your hands off of your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Don’t share items like food, forks, lipstick—anything that can transfer germs from another person’s mouth to your own.
  • Get immunized. There are several germs that cause meningitis, and luckily, there are several vaccines to protect us. Ask your provider which vaccines are appropriate for your age and immunization history.
  • Keep your immune system strong by doing all those things you hear about: exercise, eat healthy, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Be responsible and cover your coughs and sneezes. You don’t want to spread infections that you may have.

The harm that can come from meningitis is so great, it’s simply not worth the risk. Call your child’s provider. Protect your babies, whatever their age.


Meningitis B Vaccine: Who Should Get It?

By Trish Parnell

My whole life is on the Outlook calendar. Birthdays, meetings, to-do lists, reminders—when anything pops up, it goes on the calendar. Doesn’t matter if it’s four days or four years from now, it gets noted.

In a few months, my younger daughter will be 16. If you sat at my computer and clicked to that day, you’d find two things: 1) Bug’s birthday and, 2) Call to get mening booster for Bug. (Don’t tell her I called her Bug in this blog, but that is what you’d read in my calendar. It stands for Love Bug.)

Meningitis, or more accurately, meningococcal disease, is the real version of the monster under the bed. That’s how scared I am of this disease.

It’s not as common as flu, but when it strikes, it can kill or do horrendous damage to the body within hours of the first symptom appearing.

In the US, we have vaccines we use against several strains of the disease.

In the fall of 2014, the FDA approved a vaccine against serogroup B, a strain that, up to that time, was not found in our available vaccines. There’s at least one other vaccine against serogroup B that’s been approved by the FDA, and I’m guessing that approval for more won’t be long in coming.

Because we haven’t had a vaccine against serogroup B, we’ve left our at-risk populations defenseless. When Princeton and Santa Barbara had their meningitis outbreaks in 2013, the culprit was serogroup B.

But, the good news is that the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) will now take a look at the vaccine that protects against meningitis serogroup B and decide what recommendations it will make. The ACIP exists to make “recommendations on how to use vaccines to control diseases in the United States.”

It could be that the ACIP will decide to recommend that all young people ages 10 to 25 should be vaccinated. Or, they may recommend that the vaccine only be given in the event of an outbreak.

The CDC has a specific definition of outbreak when it comes to meningitis, and that is: An outbreak occurs when there are multiple cases in a community or institution over a short period of time. Specifically, an outbreak is defined as three or more cases of the same serogroup ("strain") occurring within three months. Sometimes having just two cases in a school or college can meet the outbreak definition.

For a more precise definition, check out this Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on the Evaluation and Management of Suspected Outbreaks of Meningococcal Disease.

My personal feeling is that we’re a country that can afford to protect ourselves against vaccine-preventable diseases and we should take advantage of that fact. Why wait until an outbreak to start vaccinating? Let’s get the at-risk populations vaccinated and not worry about an outbreak.

I suspect that as discussions ensue, the cost of vaccinating pre-outbreak will be a major factor in determining what the official recommendations will be. After all, the federal government does have a budget. Maybe a few more zeroes in their budget compared to yours or mine, but still.

I know that other interests are clamoring for their share of the pot. Alzheimer’s research, foodborne illness, alcohol poisoning—everyone deserves some of the health and medical dollars available. As do those with other interests, such as agriculture, space exploration, or marine biology.

But still.

Preventing meningococcal disease has always made more sense to me than hoping treatment works and burying those for whom it does not.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. We will share them with ACIP members as they meet to discuss what recommendations to make for the new vaccines.


Information is the power
parents have over disease.