Vaccinations

Meningitis: What Parents & Students Need to Know

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

It’s time for college students to head off to school, either returning to campus or moving in for the first time. There’s a lot to do before then, so make it a priority to have your son or daughter vaccinated for meningococcal disease.

“Meningococcal disease is a serious illness that can lead to bacterial meningitis,” says family medicine doctor Afaaq Siddiqui, M.D. “This disease can affect anyone, even very healthy people. More commonly, it affects infants, young adults and people with weakened immune systems.” Dr. Siddiqui also notes that people traveling to certain countries likes sub-Saharan Africa may be at risk and may need the meningitis vaccine.

Often, the first symptoms are mistaken for the flu. Fever, nausea, headaches and neck stiffness are common symptoms of both. But the neck stiffness and muscle pains of meningococcal disease are more intense.

Meningococcal disease must be treated. As a case gets more severe, meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and blood infections can occur. Because of this, a majority of untreated cases result in death. It is important to watch for symptoms so cases can be treated as quickly as possible. However, even those who survive can experience long-term effects such as brain damage or hearing loss.

Preventing Meningococcal Disease & Bacterial Meningitis
“Meningococcal disease can spread through coughing or sharing a drink, as well as in close quarters such as a family home or a residential hall,” says Dr. Siddiqui. “So it’s important that students are vaccinated for the most common types before they go off to college.”

The most common types of meningococcal disease are A, B, C, W and Y. Fortunately, most schools require all students (or at least the ones living in dorms) to have the ACWY vaccination (MenACWY). However, because this vaccination does not cover the B type, there have been several cases of college-aged students contracting this disease and resulting in some deaths due to meningitis.

The meningococcal B vaccination (MenB) has only recently become available to the public. Although it is more commonly recommended for lab workers handling the bacteria and people with weakened immune systems, the vaccine is also available to teens and young adults ages 16-23.

If you are concerned about younger kids who participate in sports and are in close quarters with kids their age, Dr. Siddiqui recommends that you make sure they have had the MenACWY vaccine. This is usually administered around age 11-12 with an additional booster given at 16. Finally, talk to your child’s physician about when would be an appropriate time for them to get the MenB vaccine.

To schedule an appointment with a Henry Ford primary care doctor, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Afaaq Siddiqui is a family medicine doctor who sees patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Novi.