Chances are you’ve never known someone who has survived meningitis, as this serious disease affects only 1,000 to 2,600 Americans each year. The fact that meningitis is so rare is likely one of the reasons that, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine to help prevent meningococcal disease many children remain unvaccinated.
But with school back in session, I have an important message for parents: Meningitis strikes preteens and teens more than most other age groups, and the consequences can be devastating. Meningitis can take the life of an otherwise healthy child within a single day, and survivors can be left with lifelong disabilities like amputation, brain damage and hearing loss.
Like other infectious diseases, meningitis spreads from person to person, and for preteens and teens, many activities that go hand-in-hand with school may increase their risk of getting meningitis. Sharing water bottles during sports practice, sharing utensils at lunch and even not getting enough sleep all make them more vulnerable to contracting meningitis.
Along with other school nurses across the country, I am committed to getting the word out that the single most effective way to help protect our kids from meningitis is by getting them vaccinated. We are all part of the National Association of School Nurses’ Voices of Meningitis education campaign, and with adolescent vaccination rates below national public health goals, we still have a lot of work to do.
Here in Florida, meningococcal vaccination is not required for school admission. It is not surprising, therefore, that according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45 percent of teens in Florida remain unvaccinated … and even one child who contracts meningitis because he or she was not vaccinated represents an enormous — and preventable — tragedy.
According to a recent survey, nearly 82 percent of preteens and teens engage in common, everyday activities that increase their risk of getting meningococcal disease. In other words, adolescents are putting themselves at risk every single day, which only further highlights the importance of vaccination in helping to keep them — and their communities — protected against meningitis.
Meningococcal vaccination is recommended for all preteens and teens beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age, so parents with children in this age group should schedule a vaccination appointment as soon as possible to help keep their preteens and teens healthy. It’s important to make sure your child receives the booster dose even if they received an initial shot during their preteen years. Parents can also visit www.VoicesOfMeningitis.org or the Raise Your Voice Against Meningitis Facebook page for more information.
Nancy Mooney is an RN at Winter Park High School and member of the Florida Association of School Nurses.