VNA: Vaccine helps protect against meningococcal disease |

VNA: Vaccine helps protect against meningococcal disease

Tamera Manzanares/For the Saturday Morning Press

Adolescence is marked by big steps and changes. Some changes, such as the transition into college, can come with health risks. One of the most dangerous of these is meningococcal meningitis.

World Meningitis Day on Friday builds awareness around this potentially fatal condition and the vaccine that can help prevent it.

Meningitis occurs when meninges, the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord, become infected and inflamed. There are several types of meningitis. The most common occur from certain viruses and bacteria.

Both viral and bacterial meningitis can be spread through the exchange of saliva while kissing or sharing drinks or utensils. Living in close quarters such as dormitories and smoking or being exposed to smoke also put preteens, teens and young adults at greater risk of infection.

Although viral meningitis can be serious, most people recover within 10 days. There is no vaccine to prevent viral meningitis.

Unlike viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis is usually very severe. Meningococcal disease, caused by a type of bacterial meningitis, is very aggressive and can potentially kill an otherwise healthy young person in less than 24 hours. Survivors may suffer long-term consequences such as amputations, brain damage and hearing loss.

Although meningococcal disease is rare — it affects about 1,000 to 2,000 people each year in the U.S. — its severity warrants awareness and precautions, especially for youth preparing for college. A vaccine is available to help prevent infection from two of the three most common types of meningococcal disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

• Adolescents ages 11 through 18 should get two doses of the vaccine, the first dose at age 11 or 12 and a booster dose at 16 (data suggests protection declines within five years).

• If they receive the first dose between ages 13 and 15, the booster should be given between ages 16 and 18.

• If the first dose is given after age 16, a booster is not needed.

• Others who should get the vaccine include younger children and adults with certain medical conditions and military recruits. Travelers also may need to get the vaccine, especially if they will be visiting sub-Saharan Africa.

Parents and teens should know the red flags for meningococcal disease, which can be difficult to recognize in its early stages when symptoms, such as nausea, may mimic common viruses. Signs to watch for include severe headache, stiff neck, cold hands and feet, confusion, seizures, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and rash.

If a person has symptoms (which don’t always occur at the same time) it’s crucial to contact a doctor immediately.

The meningococcal vaccine is advised but not required for teens heading to a Colorado state college or university (every state has different college vaccine requirements); private schools may require incoming students have the vaccine.

Other immunizations recommended for adolescents ages 11 to 19 include hepatitis A and the human papillomavirus or HPV vaccines.

This article includes information from

Tamera Manzanares is Marketing Coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. She can be reached at or 970-871-7642.

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