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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 s, according to the National Meningitis Association.

There is another meningitis vaccine, called MPSV4, that is recommended for certain high-risk children from the ages of 2 through 10 and there are vaccines to prevent meningitis due to Streptococcus pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria Vaccination is going to do a whole lot to reduce the incidence of this disease," said Lynn Bozof, executive director of the National Meningitis Association.

"The CDC's action will raise awareness ... among parents and adolescents that this disease is out there and it is potentially vaccine-preventable," she added.

"It's really important for the disease to be treated as soon as symptoms show up because the disease progresses very rapidly," Lee said. "Once you start seeing the signs, it means the disease has progressed to a state of danger.

The CDC said Menactra had been linked with a few cases of a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome among some teens and said it was investigating whether the vaccine caused the reaction, which has been associated with other vaccines, also.


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