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For Release: May 27, 2010
Contact: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
(405) 271-5601

Health Department Urges Meningococcal Vaccine Before Heading to College or Camp

High school graduation and preparing for college or summer vacation can be a happy and busy time. However, teens and young adults may face new risks and potential dangers during these times. Some of the activities they may engage in while away at camp or college, like living in close quarters or sharing personal items, may put them at increased risk for a rare, but dangerous, bacterial infection called meningococcal disease.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), along with the Indian Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other key medical groups recommend routine meningococcal vaccination for all adolescents beginning at 11 years of age to help protect them from the disease. Vaccination takes only one dose.

“Twenty percent of all meningococcal disease cases in the U.S. occur among adolescents and college students,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. “Given this increased risk, it is important to have your children immunized before summer activities begin to help ensure they are protected against the disease. In fact, the meningococcal vaccine is required for college freshmen who will live in on-campus student housing in Oklahoma.”

The federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program provides these vaccines at no charge for teens up to age 18 who have no health insurance, or whose health insurance does not cover these vaccines, or are on Medicaid, as well as teens who are Native Americans. When the teen reaches 19 years of age, they no longer qualify for the VFC program. If a teen is covered by a group or personal health insurance plan, parents are urged to find out if meningococcal vaccine is covered. Many private physicians and clinics participate in the VFC program along with all county health departments, Indian Health Service and tribal clinics in Oklahoma.

The most common illnesses associated with meningococcal disease are meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), or a bloodstream infection. The disease can develop and spread quickly throughout the body. So quickly, in fact, that even with rapid and appropriate treatment, meningococcal disease can kill an otherwise healthy young person within hours.

Adolescents and college-bound students are particularly vulnerable to meningococcal disease. The increased incidence is attributed to the prolonged, close proximity among large groups of adolescents, such as living in dormitories and sleep-away camps. Other factors include bar patronage, smoking (active and passive) and sharing of personal items. Up to 2,800 Americans get the infection each year and, of those, 10 percent die.

The OSDH recommends routine vaccination of 11- to 12-year-olds at their annual health care visit and catch-up vaccination for those who miss their annual visit.

“Early symptoms of meningococcal disease can be easily confused with the flu, so a quick diagnosis is not always simple,” said Dr. Bradley. “Immunization is the most effective way to prevent the disease.”

Vaccination protects against three of the four most common types of meningococcal bacteria that circulate in the United States. Among adolescents, up to 83 percent of cases are potentially preventable through use of the vaccine.

Early symptoms of meningococcal disease resemble those of common viral illnesses and may include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches or a stiff neck. Teens and young adults may not know to seek medical care immediately, allowing the disease to quickly spread throughout the body, and possibly cause death or permanent disability such as brain damage, deafness or limb amputations.

If you have an adolescent or college-bound child, contact your regular physician, clinic or county health department for more information or to schedule an appointment for a meningococcal vaccination.

For more information about vaccinations, contact the county health department in your area.

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