Consider a menigitis shot for college students
By Jeannie Millsap For Sun-Times Media December 19, 2011 4:56PM
Symptoms of meningitis can come on quickly and need to be treated immediately. They can include:
High fever and chills
Mental status change
Nausea and vomiting
Sensitivity to light
Poor feeing or irritability in children
Unusual posture, with the head and neck arched backwards
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) and The National Institutes for Health (www.nim.nih.gov).
Updated: January 21, 2012 8:13AM
With college kids home for winter break and teens off from school for a couple of weeks, it’s a great time to consider giving them a gift that will not only last a lifetime but could also save their lives — a meningitis immunization shot.
College students living in dorms, service men and women living in barracks, and others in close quarters are particularly vulnerable to this virulent and dangerous disease. Physicians recommend the meningococcal vaccine for adolescents ages 11-12, those entering high school or all college freshmen who have not already received the shot.
“I strongly urge parents to get their children vaccinated for this,” said family practice physician Dr. Jana Mohan, who is affiliated with Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. “It’s still an option, but I always recommend it.”
Meningitis is a disease caused by bacteria or viruses that inflame the membranes, or meninges, that cover the brain and spinal cord. Neurological symptoms can set in very quickly and can be mild or devastating, ranging from headache, slight fever, and a stiff neck, to decreased consciousness, rapid breathing, mental status changes, hearing loss, seizures, permanent brain damage and death.
There is no immunization against meningitis caused by viruses, Mohan said, and no antibiotics available to treat it. Fortunately, viral meningitis is normally a milder disease that comes and goes relatively quickly as the body’s immune cells fight it off naturally.
Bacterial meningitis can be a very different story. The severity of the infection, the inflammation, the pressure on the brain, and sometimes brain lesions, can lead to death or severe long-term consequences. Ten to 15 percent of meningococcus-caused meningitis infections are fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The type of bacterial meningitis shot recommended for adolescents and those in college is the meningococcal vaccine. There are two other meningitis vaccines routinely given to younger children that do not protect against this strain. They are the HiB vaccine (Haemophilus vaccine) given to babies and the PCV vaccine (Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) which is effective at preventing pneumococcal meningitis.
Meningitis is diagnosed by a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap. If it’s caused by a bacterium, appropriate antibiotics are given intravenously. Mohan recommends parents take their children to the emergency room if they have a fever higher than 101.5 degrees, complaints of a bad headache, changes in behavior or mental status, are acting differently or talking incoherently.