The death of a Minnesota child from who had not been vaccinated against Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B), has prompted health officials to remind parents that meningitis is still around, and that it can be deadly.
According to Kristen Ehresmann, RN, MPH, of the Minnesota Department of Health, "We had a death from a child who was unvaccinated. We want to encourage parents who have delayed or refused vaccination to reconsider. Hib vaccine not only protects your child, but also protects babies who have not completed their primary series or those who have immune compromise.
The CDC also warns that children should receive all of their basic Hib vaccinations. Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases says, "The situation in Minnesota might be isolated, or it might be the beginning of a trend in other places. We are working hard to determine which of these stories is the right one."
The current outbreak in Minnesota occurred in a five-month-old infant who had not yet completed the series of Hib vaccination. Another child had completed the vaccine, but had an immune deficiency. The other three cases, including the infant who died of Hib meningitis in Minnesota, were the result of two parents who refused to have their child vaccinated. One family was waiting until the child reached age five.
"Parents who wondered whether Hib vaccination is really necessary need to know the disease is still around. It is a very dangerous disease and we have a vaccine that can protect children. The situation where community protection kept unimmunized kids at low risk of disease does not appear to be holding," says Dr. Schuchat.
A shortage of Hib vaccine may also be a contributing factor to the Minnesota meningitis outbreak. An analysis showed that eighteen percent of Minnesota children did not complete the Hib vaccine series. According to Minnesota state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield, MD, "We interpret this as a shortage of vaccine. Providers did not have the vaccine in their offices."
Hib has caused at least one death from meningitis in Minnesota. Other possible outcomes of meningitis include deafness, brain and nerve damage.
Statistics show that before Hib vaccine was developed (1992), meningitis from Hib claimed the lives of approximately 20,000 children under age five in the United States. Symptoms include fever, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting. Meningitis progresses rapidly, and is spread by direct contact with respiratory secretions from kissing, coughing and sneezing. So far, no connection has been found to link the five Minnesota Hib meningitis cases.
Hib vaccine also prevents pneumonia and epiglottitis, a throat infection that can become severe enough to also cause death.
The resurgence of meningitis, evidenced by the recent outbreak in Minnesota, makes it important for parents make certain our children are protected.
Source: Atlanta (AP)