Meningitis & Teens: What You Need to Know
January 8, 2019
Vaccine-preventable diseases, such as bacterial meningitis, are continuing to impact our communities and schools. This can lead many parents to worry if their family is at risk and what measures can be taken to help protect them. As a father, pediatrician, and vaccine researcher, I want to encourage individuals – especially teens, young adults, and their parents – to talk to their doctors to learn more about this disease and if vaccination is appropriate for them, especially if they are coming to the end of their high-school careers and are looking towards entering college in the near future.
Meningococcal meningitis is an uncommon, but potentially life-threatening disease, and our adolescents are at an increased risk. Young adults are at increased risk for meningitis because they often live, work, and play in settings that foster close contact. Early symptoms are similar to those of a cold or the flu, but can progress quickly and can be fatal or cause disability within 24 hours. While uncommon, 1 in 10 people infected with meningococcal disease will die, while 1 in 5 survivors will suffer long-term disability such as loss of limbs, brain damage, deafness, and nervous system problems.
Vaccines are an important part of making sure your teen is protected from preventable diseases. At your teen’s next doctor’s visit, initiate a conversation with the doctor. Ask about the vaccines available for your teen’s age group that would help protect him or her from vaccine-preventable diseases such as bacterial meningitis. Currently, there are two different types of vaccines available to help protect against the five vaccine-preventable serogroups of meningococcal meningitis – A, C, W, Y, and B. It’s important to note that even if you’ve had the vaccine for A, C, W, and Y, you need a different vaccine to help protect against serogroup B.
Unfortunately, awareness of the two different types of meningococcal meningitis vaccines remains low. In the US, a Harris Poll from 2015 showed that while 83% of parents want their children to be vaccinated against all five vaccine-preventable serogroups of the disease, including group B, 88% of parents whose children have received a meningococcal meningitis vaccine don’t know which serogroups of the disease their child is vaccinated against. Despite the availability of serogroup B meningococcal vaccination since 2014, less than 10% of teens and young adults have been vaccinated, even though serogroup B accounts for 30 percent of all meningitis cases in the US.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends routine vaccination of the ACWY type for adolescents at age 11 or 12 years with a booster dose at age 16. Additionally, teens and young adults (16 through 23 years old) may also be vaccinated with the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, preferably at age 16 through 18. So, be sure to talk to your teen’s doctor and make sure your teen is up to date on all the vaccines he or she may need before finishing high school.
If you are a teen or young adult or the parent of a teen or young adult, take the time to learn about the two different types of vaccines available to help protect against the five vaccine-preventable groups of meningitis. Talk to your doctor or visit meningitis.com for more information.
Dr. Leonard Friedland, Vice President, Director Scientific Affairs and Public Health, GSK Vaccines, is a pediatrician and research scientist who is passionate about vaccines. He spends his days helping people understand the science of vaccines and complex ideas about how vaccines help to improve public health and the lives of patients.