Meningitis immunization recommended for students

Meningitis immunization recommended for students Parents should add meningitis vaccination to back-to-school lists for their children who are 11-12 years old, unvaccinated high school freshmen, and college freshmen who plan to live in the dorm. These groups are among those at highest risk for meningococcal disease, an inflammation of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord caused by infection with bacteria.

�Meningococcal disease often starts with symptoms that can be mistaken for common illnesses, such as the flu,� said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. �However, it is particularly dangerous because it progresses rapidly and can be fatal.�

Kightlinger said the new, updated recommendation that adolescents be routinely vaccinated for meningitis was announced in May 2005 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when a new meningococcal vaccine was licensed. The new vaccine is expected to offer longer protection than previous vaccines and requires only a single shot. It protects against four of the five types of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis � A, C, Y and W135 but offers no protection against group B.

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, vomiting and a rash. If not treated promptly, it can result in disability or death.

Meningococcal disease strikes up to 2,800 Americans, killing 300 people every year. Ten to 14 percent of people with meningococcal disease die, and among survivors, up to 19 percent may suffer long-term permanent disabilities including hearing loss, limb amputation or brain disease.

Since 1993, South Dakota has had an average of seven cases per year. There have been three cases of meningococcal meningitis associated with college students, in 1993, 1997, and in 2001.

In 2004, South Dakota reported four cases of invasive meningococcal disease. To date in 2005, South Dakota has had two cases.

Students should check with their family health care provider or student health center to receive the vaccine.

The department provides the vaccine for those eligible for the federal Vaccines for Children Program including Medicaid eligible children, Native American and Alaskan Native children, and uninsured and underinsured children under the age of 19. There is no charge for the vaccine for these children but providers may charge a small administration fee. To find a childhood vaccine provider in your area, see the Web at

To learn more about meningitis, call the department�s Immunization Program at 1-800-738-2301. Information is also available on the department Web site at

and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at

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