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The Meningitis Vaccination and Middle School-aged Children
By Joyce Allers, R.N.

On November 24, 2003, 11-year-old Austin Armstrong had a pretty typical day, filled with a presentation on volcanoes and playtime with a friend after school. At 5 p.m. he began complaining of a headache and chills. Less than 28 hours later, Austin died from meningococcal meningitis. His family, school and entire community were stunned by the loss of Austin and the rapid onset of this disease.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control recently released new policy statements recommending routine meningococcal vaccination (MCV4 Menactra™) for certain age groups of children and young adults. The newly approved Menactra™ vaccine can provide substantial protection against most forms (A, C, Y and W-135, but not B) of meningococcal meningitis. The following groups are now recommended to receive the vaccine:

-Children 11-12 years of age

-15 years of age or upon entering high school (whichever comes first) for those that haven’t been previously vaccinated

-All college freshmen living in dormitories

-Other groups at high risk

Though the meningitis vaccination has been acknowledged by the AAP as an important initiative toward maintaining good health, it is not as yet a part of the federal Vaccines for Children program; therefore, it is not yet offered as part of immunizations given by physicians and health departments at low cost. Local health departments and many pediatricians are able to administer the vaccine for a fee. Supplies of the new vaccine are not widely available as yet, but supplies should increase gradually. Parents should call care providers to check availability.

According to the National Meningitis Association (NMA), meningococcal meningitis is caused by bacteria which invade the lining surrounding the brain (the meninges). It is called meningococcal septicemia or meningococcemia when it enters the blood stream, destroying organs and tissue in a matter of hours. Symptoms include: headache, fever, vomiting, numbness, seizures, or disorientation. If symptoms occur, it should be considered a medical emergency.

Nearly one-third of the 2,000 to 3,000 annual cases in the United States result in fatalities or severe disabilities such as limb amputations and organ damage. Between 10-15 percent of the cases are fatal and about 15% of survivors end up with multiple amputations, organ damage, brain damage or other severe side effects.

Studies have shown a recent increase in the number of adolescent cases and deaths in the 1990's. Menactra™ is a safe, approved vaccine, which can help prevent the majority of adolescent cases.

Known lifestyle factors that can increase the chances of contracting meningitis include: crowded living conditions, moving to a new residence, attending a new school, sharing beverages or utensils, going to bars, smoking and irregular sleep patterns.

For more information on the meningococcal vaccine, call Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at 404-250-KIDS or visit www.choa.org or contact your local health department.

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