Meningitis: What Parents Need to Know

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By Hallie Hudson, PharmD, TTS

Is your child going away to college this fall? If so, it is very important that you take a few minutes to learn about a vaccine that could help protect your child from getting a potentially life-threatening illness known as meningococcal disease or meningitis.

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease refers to an illness caused by a type of bacteria known as meningococcus. These illnesses include infections of the blood stream as well as the lining of the brain or spinal cord. They are typically severe and can be deadly.

Why are college students at a higher risk for meningitis?

College students, especially those who live in dorms or those who are military recruits, are at an increased risk for meningitis. Infectious diseases tend to spread within large groups of people. A college campus is an ideal environment for bacteria to spread since many students live in college dorms, share drinks or food, or play on a sports team. Many colleges require proof of meningococcal conjugate vaccination before starting school.

So how can you help protect your child from getting meningitis?

First, if your child received a dose of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra® or Menveo®) before age 16, he or she should get a booster dose before going to college. In addition, you should talk to your child about the symptoms of meningitis as well as the importance of practicing good hygiene.

Know the Symptoms

Meningitis can become deadly in 48 hours or less. If you have concerns about your symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Confusion

  • Fever and chills

  • Stiff neck

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Fatigue (very tired)

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Rapid Breathing

  • Severe Headache

  • Dark purple rash (later stages of meningitis)

Practice Good Hygiene

Meningitis is spread from person-to-person through the exchange of saliva, coughs and sneezes that carry meningococcal bacteria. If you are in close or lengthy contact with an infected person, you may be exposed to these secretions. To help stop the spread of this bacteria, you should:

  • Always cough or sneeze into a sleeve or tissue

  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently or use an alcohol-based sanitizer

  • Avoid sharing anything that comes in contact with the mouth including eating utensils, drinking glasses, lip balm, make-up or smoking materials (such as cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, or vapes).

Get Vaccinated

There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available:

  1. One meningococcal vaccine protects against meningococcus bacteria groups known as A, C, W, and Y (meningococcal conjugate vaccine or MenACWY). These vaccines are known as Menactra® and Menveo®, and they are available at the pharmacy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine for all preteens and teens at 11 to 12 years old, with a booster dose at 16 years old.

  2. The other meningococcal vaccine available protects against the meningococcus bacteria group B (MenB). There are two formulations available: Trumenba® and Bexsero®. The CDC does not routinely recommend a MenB vaccine for all adolescents. Teens and young adults (ages 16 to 23, preferably at 16 to 18 years old) may a be vaccinated with the MenB vaccine.

Talk to Your Pharmacist

Check with your child’s doctor to see when he or she last had a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra® or Menveo®). If your child is 18 years or older and needs a booster dose of this vaccine, then talk to your pharmacist. You can schedule a time to stop in the pharmacy to have your child vaccinated against this potentially life-threatening disease.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

References:

  1. Meningococcal Disease: Community Settings as a Risk Factor. https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/risk-community.html. Accessed January 30, 2019.

  2. Meningococcal Vaccine: What Everyone Should Know. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/mening/public/index.html. Accessed January 30, 2019.