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Ted Wymyslo: Teens can prevent meningitis with an updated vaccine

Tuesday, January 6, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Samantha Porter
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COLUMBUS: The image of a screaming toddler on the receiving end of a needle is all too often the picture associated with information on vaccines. As tough as it is to see our little ones subjected to the short-lived discomfort that goes with shots, it is far worse to care for a child suffering with vaccine-preventable illnesses such as whooping cough, measles or rotavirus.


As parents and medical providers, we need to ensure that our children follow a vaccine schedule that takes them into a healthy adulthood. For optimal health, our vaccines don’t stop at the toddler stage of life. Vaccines also are critical for adolescents and young adults, who probably are at an age when the experience of shots is fortunately met with less noise.


Among the vaccines available for young people is one that is often overlooked but especially important if considering attending a university or college — meningococcal meningitis.


Meningitis in all its types can be deadly. Routine childhood immunizations have radically cut down on the incidence of many of the common childhood meningitis causes we used to see, like pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenza b. But we are still combating a cause of meningitis that is associated more with late adolescence and early adulthood — meningococcal meningitis.


There are several types of meningococcal meningitis, and vaccination has been available and recommended for years to prevent infection with strains A, C, Y and W. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the vaccine for these strains be given at age 11 or age 12, with a booster dose at age 16.


Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine that is effective against strain B, which causes about one-third of all cases in the United States. With meningitis B recently making an appearance on campuses such as Princeton and the University of California at Santa Barbara, it is hoped the CDC soon will include the new meningitis B vaccine in its immunization recommendations.


We are in flu season. The beginning symptoms of flu and meningitis can be similar; however, meningitis can progress more rapidly. In fact, about 15 percent of those who contract bacterial meningitis will die, and survivors can lose limbs or experience brain damage. For adolescents, as many as 60 percent of those who survive have lifelong complications.


Teenagers and young adults, especially in shared living situations, are at an elevated risk for meningococcal meningitis. Most often contracted between ages 16 and 21, the disease is spread through contact with another person’s saliva. This means when teens share water bottles and utensils, or kiss, sneeze or cough too close to others, the infection can spread.


According to the CDC, about 160 Americans contract meningitis B each year. The loss of even one person to such a preventable disease should never have to be experienced by a young adult or the family and friends who love them. Many clinicians, including the members of the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers, are focused on ensuring that adolescents receive all their indicated vaccinations, and we urge the CDC to move quickly in its determinations to include the new meningitis B vaccine in its recommendations.


Wymyslo, a physician, is the chief medical officer for the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers and a former director for the Ohio Department of Health.


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