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CATES: Meningitis issue for college-aged kids - Odessa American: Opinions

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CATES: Meningitis issue for college-aged kids

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Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2019 12:30 am

A colleague came by my office today to introduce me to his daughter who is heading off to college. It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of year. One of the things I always think about in the back to school season is vaccines. And for college-aged kids in particular, I think about the Meningitis B Vaccine.

Meningitis is when the protective coverings around the spinal cord and brain (the meninges) become inflamed and swollen. That can cause pressure on the brain and spinal cord that can lead to some very serious complications.

In the case of Meningitis B, the cause of the inflammation to the meninges is a bacteria known as Neisseria meningitides, this bacteria can also cause a serious infection of the blood called septicemia. The reason Meningitis B is so scary is 10-15 percent of people who get it die, many in as little as 24 hours after the start of the infection. For those who survive, 20 percent suffer serious long-term disability including hearing loss, brain damage and nervous system problems, kidney damage, limb loss and skin scarring.

The reason those of us in health care worry about Meningitis B with college-aged kids so much is that more than 60 percent of Meningitis B Cases happen in people between ages 16-23.

Kids attending college are at the highest risk, they are three times more likely to get Meningitis B than their same aged peers who are not in college.

Meningitis B is transmitted through coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks and utensils, kissing and living in close quarters.

There is also a “carrier” component to Meningitis B that is not fully understood by the experts. Some people “carry” the bacteria on their person. They never get sick or have symptoms, but they can spread that bacteria to others.

When you understand how this disease is spread, it is easy to understand why kids in college are particularly vulnerable: dorm life, cafeteria meals, classrooms, parties and get-togethers and sporting events, just to name a few of the ways they come in close contact with others.

Fortunately, the Meningitis B bacteria cannot live outside a human body for long, so that does limit the spread of the disease which is why it is not as common as diseases like the flu.

Symptoms of Meningitis B include severe headache, sudden high fever, and stiff neck.

Additional symptoms may include those symptoms often known as flu-like symptoms: nausea and vomiting, rapid breathing, limb, joint, and muscle pain, sleepiness, cold hands and feet and shivering.

Additional symptoms are sensitivity to light, convulsions (seizures, confusion and a dark purple rash typically on the torso, arms or legs.)

If you see those symptoms in someone you love or in yourself, particularly in someone who has not received the Meningitis B vaccine and is in that age 16-23 group, seek medical attention immediately. If you see these symptoms outside that high-risk age group of 16-23, please remember, that anyone of any age can get Meningitis B, so it is still important to seek immediate medical attention.

The best prevention for Meningitis B is the Meningitis B vaccine. This is not the same vaccine that kids get at age 12, with a booster at 16. That vaccine covers Meningitis A, C, W, and Y.

The Meningitis B vaccine is recommended for kids at age 16. Since that vaccine was not available until 2014, there are many people between ages 16 and 23 who have never had the vaccine. Please speak to your health care provider about the vaccine for yourself or your child if they are in that vulnerable age group.

The other thing you can do to limit your chances of exposure to Meningitis B and any other bacterial or viral infection is good handwashing.

The Centers Disease Control (CDC) recommends handwashing before, during, and after preparing food, before eating food, before and after caring for someone who is sick, before and after treating a cut or wound, after using the toilet, after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, after touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste, after handling pet food or pet treats or after touching garbage.

The CDC recommends that you wet your hands with clean running water, turn off the tap and apply soap, lather your hands by rubbing them together, making sure to cover all of the surfaces and under the nails for at least 20 seconds (sing or hum the” Happy Birthday” song twice for a good timer), rinse your hands well under clean running water and dry using a clean towel or air dryer.

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