Meningitis, an infection in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is scary stuff! You have likely heard about the current outbreak of bacterial meningitis at the University of Oregon (since January, one student has died and five others have become ill with meningococcal disease).
What does this mean for your child?
Meningitis is rare (about 1,000-2,000 cases a year in the U.S.), which is great news. Whew!
HOWEVER, between 7-10% of people who contract the disease die, and about 30% will have long-lasting damage such as deafness, seizures, kidney failure, and brain damage. Meningitis is caused by both bacteria and viruses, and while both are contagious, viral meningitis is less often fatal.
Infants and adolescents/young adults, specifically those entering college or living in dorms or other close-contact situations, are at highest risk for contracting either type of the disease. Generally, it is transmitted through direct contact with body fluids while doing things like sharing a cup, kissing, or coughing. Symptoms of meningitis often mimic those of the flu with fever, cough, neck pain, and fatigue being common and often a rash later develops. This can make it tough to diagnose.
How can this be prevented?
There is no vaccine to prevent viral meningitis, but fortunately we have vaccines to protect against the most common causes of bacterial meningitis! Your infant will be (or was already) vaccinated with the Prevnar and Hib vaccines, which provide protection from pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenza type b disease, respectively. Currently, vaccination against the strain of bacteria (meningococcal type B) that is the culprit at the U of O is only recommended for a specific population of high-risk children with underlying medical conditions and those in the midst of the outbreak. That would be YOU, current U of O students!
The Menactra vaccine we provide in our clinic protects against 4 of the other most common strains of meningococcal disease, and should be given between 11-12 years of age with a booster at age 16. Ask your pediatrician if you aren"t sure your child has received this vaccine yet, and talk to us about ways to reduce their risk of illness!