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CDC Backs Meningitis Vaccine for Youths

Vaccination Recommended at Ages 11-12, Entering High School or College
WebMD Health News

May 27, 2005 -- The CDC recommends children receive a newly approved meningitis vaccine at ages 11-12 or before high school or college.

The meningitis vaccine called Menactrameningitis vaccine called Menactra was approved by the FDA in January. It's a single shot against a meningitis-causing bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis, or meningococcus. It's supposed to last longer than previous meningococcal vaccines, says a CDC news release.

Meningococcal disease is rare, but it progresses quickly and sometimes kills or causes long-term disability. It's also the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in U.S. babies, children, and young adults. Meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

Meningococcal disease is notorious for spreading on college campuses; college students are at higher risk than their peers who aren't in college. It can be spread through direct contact with infected people (such as exchanging saliva by kissing) and is associated with crowded living conditions (including college dorms) and active or passive smoking.

Who Should Be Vaccinated

The CDC's recommendations apply to:

  • Children aged 11-12 years
  • Previously unvaccinated adolescents before entering high school or at age 15 (whichever comes first)
  • All first-year college students living in dormitories
  • Other high-risk groups, such as those with underlying medical conditions or travelers to areas with high rates of meningococcal disease, such as Africa and India.
  • Other adolescents who choose to get the vaccine to reduce their risk

"As the vaccine supply increases, CDC hopes, within three years, to recommend routine vaccination [for] all adolescents beginning at 11 years of age," says the CDC's news release.

CDC 'Encourages' Getting the Shot

"This new vaccine can help protect adolescents and college students from meningococcal disease," says Stephen Cochi, MD, in a news release.

"CDC encourages those at increased risk to take the opportunity to get vaccinated to help protect them from this serious disease," says Cochi, the acting director of the CDC's National Immunization Program.

Pediatricians Endorse Meningitis Vaccine

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a news release endorsing the recommendations. In the release, AAP president Carol Berkowitz, MD, FAAP, says though drugs such as penicillin can treat meningococcal disease, the vaccine is still needed.

"About one in every 10 people who get the disease dies from it, and many others are affected for life," says Berkowitz. "That is why preventing this disease through use of meningococcal vaccine is important for the high-risk groups."

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include fever, severe headache, stiff and painful neck, vomiting, and confusion.

Thousands Affected Each Year

Meningococcal disease strikes up to 3,000 people and kills 300 per year in the U.S., says the CDC. Up to 15% of survivors have long-term disabilities including hearing loss or brain damage, or need limb amputation.

The disease may start with symptoms that resemble common illnesses like the flu. However, it ramps up quickly and can kill or cause permanent damage within hours, says the CDC.

Vaccine Doesn't Target All Meningococcal Bacteria

Menactra is made by the European drug company Sanofi Pasteur, a WebMD sponsor.

"This new vaccine should offer longer protection than previous vaccines, is a single shot, and the most common reaction is a sore arm," says the CDC news release. However, it does not protect people against meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B bacteria."

Serogroup B bacteria cause a third of U.S. meningococcal cases and more than half of the cases among babies less than 1 year old, says the CDC.

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