Teens Engage in Activities That May Put Them at Risk for Contracting Meningitis

A new national survey shows most preteens and teens engage in day-to-day activities that may put them at risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis, a rare but serious bacterial infection that can cause meningitis and take the life of an otherwise healthy child in just a single day. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN), in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur, conducted the survey as part of its Voices of Meningitis back-to-school vaccination awareness initiative.

The majority of mothers surveyed believe their preteen and teenage children are at little or no risk of getting meningococcal disease. Yet, nearly 82 percent of preteens and teens 11-17 years of age reported engaging in at least one common everyday activity that can spread the bacteria such as sharing drinking glasses and water bottles, not getting enough sleep, living in close quarters like dormitories, and kissing and put them at risk for contracting meningitis.

Given that it can be difficult to convince preteens and teens to avoid common everyday activities that put them at risk, the NASN and school nurses nationwide are advising parents that vaccination is the best way to help protect young people from meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination for preteens and teens beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age. However, nearly half of teens in the U.S. have not been immunized, leaving many unprotected against the disease.

"Most of our preteens and teens are unprotected against meningitis, and at the same time are regularly engaging in behaviors that may put them at risk," says Linda Davis-Alldritt, MA, BSN, RN, FNASN, FASHA, president of the NASN. "While we may not be able to prevent our teens from engaging in these activities, we can take steps to help protect them by making sure they are immunized against meningitis."

Voices of Meningitis is a program of the National Association of School Nurses in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi.

Meningococcal disease is a serious infection that can cause meningitis (swelling of the brain or spinal cord) or meningococcemia (blood infection). The disease can be spread through common everyday activities, such as sharing drinking glasses, living in close quarters like dormitories, and kissing. Meningococcal disease can be hard to recognize, especially in its early stages, because symptoms are similar to those of more common viral illnesses. Unlike more common illnesses, the disease can progress quickly and may cause death or disability in just a single day. For survivors, one in five is left with serious medical problems, including amputation of limbs, brain damage, deafness and organ damage.

Meningococcal vaccination is recommended for preteens and teens beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age. Parents should talk to their school nurse or health-care provider for more information. Vaccines are available for people who wish to reduce their risk for contracting the disease.

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