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HLM NEWS SERVICE – This time of year often finds parents frantic while shopping for the newest shoes, coolest clothes and latest high-tech gadgets. For the parents of teens in Douglas County, vaccinations, like those for meningitis, should be added to their back-to-school supply list.
Meningitis is a dangerous infection of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain. The primary cause is meningococcal disease. Those between the ages of 16-21 are at the highest risk for this contagious disease, which spreads person-to-person through the air. This can occur through coughing, kissing, or sneezing. It can also be transmitted by touching something a person with meningitis has handled and then rubbing your own nose or mouth. It cannot be spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been. The good news is meningitis is preventable through a vaccination named MCV4.
“Teens who get vaccinated with MCV4 are protecting themselves from an infection that can lead to lifelong disability or even death – in 48 hours or less,” says Dr. Amanda Cohn, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Let’s make sure all teens are protected.”
In Missouri, about 40 percent of teens, ages 13-17, have been vaccinated against meningococcal disease. This leaves more than half of adolescents unprotected against this life-threatening bacterial disease. In Douglas County, there are more than 600 teens in this age group.
Meningitis can have symptoms that are very similar to the flu, such as a high fever, nausea and vomiting and sleepiness. Other symptoms can include a stiff neck, consistent headaches and discomfort looking into bright lights. These mild symptoms, however, can rapidly progress into something disabling or even deadly. According to the CDC, about 10 to 15 percent of meningitis cases lead to death. Of those who survive, up to 20 percent suffer a serious life-changing outcome. Effects range from loss of limbs, deafness, loss of brain activity, nervous system problems, seizures and strokes.
The preferred vaccination for meningococcal disease, MCV4, protects against four kinds of this disease. This vaccination is effective for more than 90 percent of recipients and helps to prevent the disease from spreading from person-to-person contact.
Though very effective, this vaccination can have side effects such as redness and pain where the shot was given, and possibly fever. As with any vaccination, allergic reactions are possible. However, MCV4 vaccination allergic reactions are very rare.
When it comes to meningitis and vaccinations, Health Literacy Missouri (HLM) and the CDC recommend the following:
Get vaccinated early. Vaccinations should be given to adolescents starting at age 11 to 12. Teens who did not receive the vaccination at their pre-teen check-up should get the vaccination as soon as possible, especially before starting college.
Booster up. For those who received a first vaccination at age 11 or 12, a booster dose should be given at age 16, before the peak in increased risk. Adolescents who receive their first dose of MCV4 at or after age 16 years do not need a booster dose.
Not just for kids. The meningococcal vaccine is required to attend any college in Missouri and for colleges in many other states. Additionally, adults should get the vaccine if they are military recruits, have a damaged or removed spleen, have terminal complement deficiency or are traveling or residing in countries where the disease is common.
For more information about meningitis and vaccinations, contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
For local information, including where you can get the meningococcal vaccination, contact the Douglas County Health Department at (417) 683-4174.