New Weapon For parents alarmed by the recent death of a District boy from what appears to be meningitis, an infection of the fluid surrounding the spine and brain, news of an improved children's vaccine may offer some reassurance. The new vaccine, expected to be available within the next month, is designed to last eight years (roughly twice as long as its predecessor) and prevent transmission, something the old one doesn't claim to do. The vaccine protects against meningococcal disease, a contagious and potentially deadly bacterial infection and the leading cause of bacterial meningitis. With the new vaccine come new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Get Shot The recommendations urge vaccination for 11- and 12-year-olds; kids about to enter high school who have not already been vaccinated; and college freshmen who live in dorms. Children already vaccinated need not get the new vaccine unless five years have passed, said William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Inoculation against meningococcal disease is not mandatory in the District; Maryland and Virginia require it but allow waivers at the request of a parent or child over 18. Some colleges also require it.
Keeping It Rare Bacterial meningitis can cause permanent brain damage, deafness, kidney failure and tissue death, leading to amputation of affected limbs and extremities. Of the 3,000 cases reported in the United States each year, adolescents account for nearly a third; an estimated 15 to 25 percent of those stricken die. Initial symptoms -- including headache, fever, stiff neck -- resemble those of the flu.
Meningitis "creates a great deal of concern, and it should," said Andrew Bonwit, an infectious disease specialist at Children's National Medical Center. The new vaccine, he said, "will make a disease that is uncommon that much more rare."
-- Matt McMillen