Your kids and meningitis: What you need to know

Their backpacks are packed and their pencils are sharpened, but without the meningitis vaccination, your teenager may not be ready for school this fall.

What do parents need to know about meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective tissues surrounding the brain and part of the spinal cord. It’s usually caused by a very contagious bacteria or virus. Meningitis can be very serious with long-term negative health effects including:

  • Memory loss
  • Coordination problems or clumsiness
  • Epilepsy/seizures
  • Loss of vision
  • Speech problems
  • Paralysis

And in some cases, meningitis can even be deadly.

Because meningitis is so contagious, it’s important that people receive the immunization. This is especially true for adolescents who may be living in close quarters of one another, such as in college dormitories.

“Teenagers and young adults living in ‘close quarters,’ such as college dormitories or military barracks, are at particular risk for getting meningitis because it spreads quickly through densely populated areas,” said Dr. Ryan Van Ramshorst, a pediatrician at University Health and an associate professor of pediatrics at UT Health San Antonio. “This is why the meningitis vaccine is a requirement for college students.”

When should I get my child the meningitis vaccination?

The CDC recommends that you get your child the meningitis vaccination when they are 12 or 13 years old with a follow-up booster at age 16.  The state of Texas requires that all students receive the meningitis vaccination before they enroll in college.

There are two different types of meningitis vaccinations available for pre-teens and teens, both of which are usually easy to obtain through your health care provider.

“Both meningitis vaccines are available through most primary care offices including those of family physicians and pediatricians,” Dr. Van Ramshorst said. “Other organizations such as the local health department (e.g. San Antonio Metropolitan Health District) can also provide the vaccine.”

How do I talk to my kids about meningitis?

It’s important that your kids understand the signs and symptoms of meningitis so that they can receive immediate medical care if they suspect they have it. Immediate medical care is especially important with bacterial meningitis since proper care can prevent serious, long-term health complications.

Tell your child to seek medical attention if they experience any of the following:

  • Severe headache
  • Stiff or sore neck
  • High fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sleepiness

If your child does develop meningitis, it may be necessary to quarantine him or her from other kids in order to keep from spreading the highly contagious disease.

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