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Meningitis Shots for Teens

A bacterial meningitis case at the University of Cincinnati has resulted in the Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that all teens between the ages of 11 and 18 be routinely vaccinated against potentially deadly bacterial meningitis.

The guidelines are especially aimed at protecting new college students, who have a higher-than-average risk of bacterial meningitis, the CDC said. Adolescents and young adults are at increased risk because of their more social lifestyle.

Bacterial meningitis is a rare infection that can prove fatal. The infection can cause seizures, brain damage, memory loss and death in otherwise healthy people in less than 48 hours. It has about a 15 percent fatality rate if treated with antibiotics.

Characterized by fever, headache, and stiff neck, the relatively rare disease involves the inflammation of membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is a more serious infection than viral meningitis.

The disease is often misdiagnosed in its early stage because symptoms resemble those of the flu, including fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and stiff neck, said National Meningitis Association board member Tama Lee. Bruising and a rash resembling small pin marks help distinguish the disease, which, if left untreated, can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, organ failure, loss of limbs and - sometimes - death.

It is spread through the exchange of respiratory droplets, or by sharing drinks or utensils or by kissing or coughing and sneezing. It's easily spread to people who live in crowded places like camps or dormitories.

The recommendation would expand the use of Sanofi-Pasteur's Menactra, also known as meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine or MCV4, which is now routinely recommended for all 11- and 12-year olds.

The vaccine has been proven to protect against up to 83 percent of meningococcal cases among adolescent
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