This condition is caused by a type of bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis. The two most common types of meningococcal infections include meningitis and septicemia:
- Meningitis results in the inflammation of membranes around the spinal cord and brain.
- Septicemia is when the bacteria enter the bloodstream.
These infections are both very serious and require immediate medical attention. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on meningitis.
Meningitis symptoms include fever, headache and stiff neck. Typically, the infection appears as a flu-like illness and gets worse very quickly. That means it's important to pay attention when flu symptoms include a stiff neck.
Some people face a higher risk for meningitis. These people include babies, teens and young adults, such as those attending college.
In fact, three universities are experiencing an outbreak currently. These include Rutgers University – New Brunswick, Columbia University and San Diego State University.
Even if the infection is treated quickly, meningococcal disease can lead to long-term problems or even result in death. That's why it is so important to take preventive steps.
The good news is that getting vaccinated can prevent meningococcal disease. In the United States, several vaccines can protect against meningococcal disease.
The vaccine your child gets will be determined by factors like age, whether certain medical conditions are present and others.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend meningococcal vaccines for preteens and teens. This includes a single dose for 11- to 12-year-olds and a booster dose at age 16.
For teens and young adults (ages 16 through 23) a different type of meningococcal vaccine is available and recommended.
If your teen missed a dose, ask your teen's health care provider about how to safely catch up. For example, for first-year college students who will be living in residential housing (and were not previously vaccinated at age 16 or older), one dose of a certain meningococcal vaccine is recommended.
Although younger children and adults typically do not need meningococcal vaccines, the CDC recommends a meningococcal vaccine for people with certain medical conditions, travel plans or jobs.
Speak with your health care provider if you have any questions about meningococcal disease or how to keep your teen protected.
Written by Anyssa Garza, PharmD, BCMAS