Got kids? 5 things you need to know about the meningitis vaccine
Each year, between 1,000 and 1,200 Americans contract meningococcal disease, the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children ages 2 through 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when treated with antibiotics, the disease is fatal to 10 to 15 percent of sufferers; others face strokes or seizures, or permanent disabilities.
Infants less than 1 year of age and young people ages 16 to 21 are at the highest risk. Symptoms of the illness can be hard to detect, since they mimic the flu and include headache, fever, a stiff neck, nausea and other common ailments.
Vicki Greenberg, family nurse practitioner program manager in the College of Nursing at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus, says there are five things people — particularly parents of young adults — should know about the vaccine:
It is recommended primarily for adolescents ages 11 to 18.
“Most of the people who get the vaccine are early to late teenage kids, college freshmen, people living in dormitories,” Greenberg says. According to the Mayo Clinic, younger children who have been exposed to someone with the disease or those who are at high risk for other reasons can also receive the vaccine, as the shot is approved for children 9 months old and older.
The vaccine is safe and effective.
“It has been used by large numbers of people, and there have never been any horrible outcomes or side effects. It is safe for pregnant women,” Greenberg says. Side effects can include pain at the injection site or a mild fever, if anything.
Shots are widely available.
Doctors’ offices can provide these vaccines. Two doses are recommended for adolescents — one at age 11 or 12, and then a booster shot at age 16. “Schools are promoting the vaccine,” Greenberg says. “This disease is so deadly. You can get exposed if someone sneezes on you and the bacteria get into your bloodstream.”
It protects against most strains of the disease.
“It is considered protective against four of the five strains, which is the best we have,” Greenberg says. According to the CDC, the vaccine can prevent two of the three types of meningococcal disease in the United States.
It can save your life and protect the health of those around you.
Meningitis is contagious, so “when kids are vaccinated against the disease,” Greenberg says, “it’s not likely they will get the disease and expose someone else.”