Malley: Protect your children
To the editor:
Two years ago, Tyler Johnson was flown by helicopter from Yampa Valley Medical Center to a Denver Hospital.
Tyler had become seriously ill with a high fever and a rapidly spreading rash on his feet. Lab tests never confirmed the cause, but all symptoms pointed to N. Meningitidis or bacterial meningitis.
Tyler survived the infection, but only after amputation of his feet and portions of fingers.
N. meningitidis is one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in children and young adults in the United States. Only about 3,000 people are infected each year in the U. S. but 10 to 15 percent will die, even with treatment. Of survivors, 25 percent will have a permanent disability, such as loss of limbs, deafness or brain damage.
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The germ lives in the nose and throat of 5 to 10 percent of people without causing illness. These “carriers” can spread the germ to others by coughing, kissing, sneezing, sharing drinking containers, chap stick or cigarettes. The “carrier” may never become ill, but a friend sharing a water bottle may become ill within days or hours.
Symptoms are fever, headache and stiff neck and rash.
Anyone can get Meningococcal disease, but certain groups are at higher risk. Infants younger than 1 year account for 16 percent of cases. Infants and young children who are not fully vaccinated carry a greater risk of infection from several different meningitis-causing germs, both bacterial and viral. Certain groups of college students also have six times the risk of infection including those who live in dormitories, are vulnerable to upper respiratory infections, smoke or are exposed to smoking and consume excessive alcohol.
Prevention is based on two principles: healthy lifestyle and vaccination.
Always wash hands before eating, after using the toilet, changing a diaper, after contact with someone’s saliva, respiratory, nasal secretions or used tissues. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and throw away used tissues promptly. Parents should encourage young children not to share cups, water bottles, utensils, chap stick, toothbrushes, etc.
Don’t smoke and always try to keep you and your family away from second-hand smoke. Smokers and second-hand smokers are more likely to be “carriers” of N. Meningitidis and other meningitis-causing germs. Binge drinking also puts your health and safety at risk.
Vaccination protects you from Meningococcal Disease and is recommended for adolescents 11 to 18 years old, college freshmen and military recruits, international travelers going to the Meningitis Belt in sub-Sahara Africa, and those with certain medical conditions, such as not having a spleen.
Before your adolescent returns to school or your teen heads off to college, ask your health care provider about the Meningococcal vaccine.
For more information please contact your health care provider or contact your local public agency, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association at 824-8233. Watch the newspaper for special adolescent drop-in clinics being held this month.
To hear Tyler’s story of survival, go to the website for Voices of Meningitis: http://www.voicesofmeningitis.org.
Jacque Malley, RN
Public health nurse Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. to include a response from the Bureau of Land Management’s national office.