U.S. health officials and a leading pediatricians group on Thursday endorsed recommendations that teen and pre-teens should be routinely vaccinated against meningitis, a disease that can kill within hours.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics backed recommendations made by vaccine advisers in February that pre-teens aged 11 and 12, as well as newly enrolled high school and college students in dormitories, should get the shots.Other groups at high risk such as those with underlying medical conditions or travelers to areas with high rates of meningococcal disease should also be vaccinated under the new guidelines.”Meningococcal disease is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in U.S. toddlers, adolescents and young adults,” the Academy said in a statement.”Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion, and a rash may appear. Lifestyle factors thought to contribute to the disease include direct contact with an infected person, e.g., exchanging saliva, often through kissing; crowded living conditions, e.g., dormitories; and active or passive smoking.”Bacterial meningitis kills about 10 percent of patients and others are often permanently disabled by it.But vaccination at age 11 can protect youngsters through college.They recommend Sanofi-Aventis’s Menactra vaccine, which protects against four strains of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria that cause the infection. It was approved in January.”This new vaccine can help protect adolescents and college students from meningococcal disease, said Dr. Stephen Cochi, Acting Director of CDC’s National Immunization Program.As many as 3,000 Americans become ill with meningitis each year and about 300 die. Another 15 percent have permanent disabilities such as hearing loss, limb amputation or brain damage.Meningitis starts out looking like flu, with headache, muscle aches and fever, but a stiff neck and often a rash is a giveaway. Meningitis can progress rapidly and kill within hours.The new vaccine does not protect people against meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B bacteria, which account for a third of bacterial meningitis cases and about half of those seen in infants.”Parents should speak with their child’s physician about these new recommendations and immunization,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a member of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. (Source: Reuters Health, May 2005)