Children's Health Issues - New Meningococcal Immunization Recommendations
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has issues new meningococcal immunization recommendations. The recommendations state that young adolescents at the pre-adolescent visit (11-12 years old), adolescents at high school entry (15 years old) and college freshmen living in dormitories should be immunized against meningococcal meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis, a disease caused by bacteria, is a dangerous, potentially fatal bacterial infection. The new recommendations are a change from previous policy. This change is a result of the availability of a new vaccine, Menactra, which is effective for more than eight years. The old vaccine lasted for only three to five years. The new vaccine also prevents people from being carriers of the bacteria; the old vaccine didn’t.
According to the National Meningitis Association (NMA), research shows that adolescents and young adults are at increased risk for meningococcal disease and more likely to die of the disease than younger children or older adults. Adolescents and young adults are at an increased risk of contracting the disease due to certain lifestyle factors, such as crowed living conditions, sharing beverages or utensils, going to bars, active or passive smoking and irregular sleeping patterns.
It is believed that up to 80 percent of meningococcal meningitis cases among adolescents and young adults are potentially vaccine-preventable. Young people should also be made aware of other ways to reduce their risk of contracting the disease, such as not sharing items that touch a person’s mouth like cups, utensils, water bottles and soda cans.
Although rare, the disease is devastating because the early symptoms resemble the flu, making it difficult to recognize. But, unlike the flu, the disease can progress rapidly. Within hours of the initial symptoms, hearing loss, brain damage, limb amputation and even death may result. Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion. In later stages, a rash may appear. Adolescents and young adults should seek medical attention immediately if they experience unusually sudden or severe symptoms.
What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the fluid of a person’s spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Knowing the difference is important because the severity of illness and the treatment differ. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without the specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disability. For bacterial meningitis, it is also important to know which type of bacteria is causing the disease to determine the best antibiotic to use to prevent spreading and infecting other people.
High fever, headache, and stiff neck are common symptoms of meningitis in anyone over the age of 2 years. These symptoms can develop over several hours or they can take 1 to 2 days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants symptoms may differ; the infant may only appear slow or inactive, or be irritable, have vomiting or be feeding poorly. As the disease progresses, patients of any age may develop seizures.
Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. When symptoms occur, the patient should see a doctor immediately. The diagnosis is usually made by growing bacterial from a sample of spinal fluid. Identification of the type of bacteria responsible is important for selection of correct antibiotics.
How is Meningitis Treated?
Bacterial meningitis is treated with several effective antibiotics. It is most important that the treatment be started early. Antibiotic treatment of the most common types of bacterial meningitis should reduce the risk of dying to below 15%, although the risk is higher among the elderly.
Is Meningitis Contagious?
Some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (coughing, kissing). Fortunately, the meningitis-causing bacteria are not as contagious as the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by breathing in the air where a meningitis patient has been.
Sometimes the bacteria that causes meningitis is spread to others who have had close or prolonged contact with meningitis patients. Family members, day-care workers, or anyone with direct contact with a patient’s oral secretions would be considered at increased risk of developing the infection. They should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.
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