Parents Urged to Protect Preteens, Teens Against Meningitis This Winter

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Amid concerns about influenza this time of year, parents also need to know that late-winter and early-spring is peak season for meningococcal meningitis, a serious bacterial infection that can cause meningitis and take the life of a child in just a single day. School nurses nationwide are urging parents of preteens and teens to help protect their children against meningococcal meningitis by getting them vaccinated.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) educational initiative, Voices of Meningitis, unites school nurses with families across the country that have been affected by meningitis to share their compelling personal stories in an effort to raise awareness about the disease and encourage parents to talk to their school nurse or health-care provider about vaccination.

Anyone can get meningitis, but preteens and teens are at greater risk for getting the disease and more likely to die from the infection than other age groups. In fact, health officials recommend meningococcal vaccination for preteens and teens 11 through 18 years of age and college freshmen living in dormitories.

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Preventing meningococcal meningitis is especially important since early signs of the disease may be similar to flu-like symptoms, making it difficult for parents and health-care providers to recognize as something more serious. But unlike more common illnesses, the disease moves quickly and can cause death or disability in just a single day. Symptoms of meningitis may include severe headache, stiff neck, fever, nausea and vomiting, confusion, sensitivity to light, and a purplish rash.

Bob & Dee Dee Werner lost their daughter Becky, an active college student, to meningitis in the winter of 2004. Becky didn’t have a fever and showed no outward symptoms of anything other than a virus. Later that night, she got worse and was rushed to the hospital. Becky died just hours later. “I could not believe what was happening to our family,” says Bob. “Becky started feeling sick on Tuesday and by Wednesday she was gone. It happens that fast.”

Although rare, nearly 10 percent of the 1,000 to 2,600 Americans who get meningococcal disease each year will die. One out of five survivors is left with serious medical problems, including amputation of arms, legs, fingers and toes, brain damage, deafness, and organ damage. Everyday activities common among preteens and teens can help to spread meningitis. Parents should tell their children to avoid sharing glasses, eating utensils, and water bottles – anything that someone has put in or near their mouth.

The NASN advises parents to visit VoicesOfMeningitis.org to learn more about meningococcal meningitis, and to talk to their child’s school nurse or a health-care provider about vaccination, especially this time of year when most cases occur.

Written by by Sandi Delack, RN, BSN, MEd, NCSN, president of the National Association of School Nurses

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