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  • Meningococcal Vaccine Can Protect Children From Meningitis and Septicemia

    Meningococcal disease can be life-threatening, making meningococcal vaccine vital.
    by Kate Borbon .
Meningococcal Vaccine Can Protect Children From Meningitis and Septicemia
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  • We know about infectious diseases such as measles and dengue, but another type of illness that can spread quickly is the meningococcal disease, which can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions. Experts say that the best way to protect children and even adults from meningococcal disease is by making sure that they receive all doses of the meningococcal vaccine.

    Read below to learn more about what meningococcal diseases are, how they are treated, and why your child needs to be given the meningococcal vaccine.

    What is meningococcal disease?

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meningococcal disease refers to illnesses that are caused by the bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis. These diseases, which include meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicemia, are serious and potentially life-threatening, which means that speedy medical treatment and vaccination are highly crucial.

    The bacterium Neisseria meningitidis has five serogroups or types, namely A, B, C, W, and Y. Of these types, serogroups B, C, and Y are the ones responsible for most meningococcal diseases in the United States, according to Healthy Children. Many people can carry this bacterium in their bodies, particularly in their nose and throat, but don’t get infected (these people are called ‘carriers’), while there are also some who do end up getting sick.

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    Meningococcal bacteria can be transmitted from person-to-person through close and lengthy contact, particularly by sharing respiratory and throat secretions. For instance, if a person is exposed to a carrier who coughs or kisses them, he or she might get the bacteria. The CDC recommends that people who are in close contact with people with meningococcal disease also receive antibiotics to reduce their risk of infection.

    Meningococcal disease symptoms and possible complications

    There are two most common types of meningococcal infections. Both are severe illnesses that can cause a patient to die, especially if he or she is not given the necessary treatment as soon as possible.

    The first type of meningococcal disease is meningococcal meningitis, which is when the bacteria infect the protective membranes covering a person’s brain and spinal cord and causes swelling. The common symptoms of meningococcal meningitis are fever, headache, and stiff neck. Some patients may also experience other symptoms, such as:

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    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Photophobia (when the eyes become more sensitive to light)
    • Confusion

    For newborns and babies, it may not be as easy to spot the common symptoms, says the CDC. It is even possible that infected babies don’t exhibit those symptoms. Instead, they might become inactive and irritable, feed poorly, or vomit. Meanwhile, for young children, doctors may check on their reflexes for possible indications of meningococcal meningitis.

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    The second type of common meningococcal disease is meningococcal septicemia, also known as meningococcemia. This illness is a bloodstream infection, which takes place when the bacteria enter a patient’s bloodstream and multiply, thus causing damage to the walls of the patient’s blood vessels and causing bleeding into the skin and organs.

    The following are the symptoms of meningococcal septicemia as outlined by the CDC:

    • Fever
    • Fatigue
    • Vomiting
    • Cold hands and feet
    • Cold chills
    • Severe pain in the muscles, joints, chest, or abdominal area
    • Rapid breathing
    • Diarrhea
    • A dark purple rash (in later stages)

    If your child begins to exhibit the symptoms stated above, it is important to seek your doctor’s help as soon as possible.

    Meningococcal disease treatment

    The CDC says that meningococcal diseases are usually treated using effective antibiotics, administered as soon as the patient’s doctor suspects meningococcal disease. Antibiotics help lessen the risk of death. Aside from the patient, people who are in close contact with the patient are also recommended to receive antibiotics to protect themselves effectively from infection.

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    Some patients may also require other kinds of medical treatment, depending on the severity of their condition. These treatments may include wound care for damaged skin, breathing support, and medication to treat low blood pressure.

    Healthy Children also provides several tips to prevent contracting meningococcal diseases. First is by reducing children’s and young adults’ exposure to smoking, alcohol, excessive stress, and upper respiratory tract infections. Healthy diets and enough exercise are also helpful, as well as practicing good hygiene (e.g., washing hands regularly, covering mouth when sneezing or coughing).

    Despite these, the CDC still emphasizes that the meningococcal vaccine is still the best way to ensure that a child is as safe as possible. “Keeping up to date with recommended immunizations is the best defense against meningococcal disease.”

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    Meningococcal vaccine is the best protection

    Because meningococcal disease is easily spread from person to person, the protection provided by meningococcal vaccine is crucial to shield people from those potentially fatal illnesses. In particular, the groups most vulnerable to meningococcal disease include infants less than a year old, and teens and young adults between the ages 16 and 23.

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    According to Healthy Children, three types of meningococcal vaccines are recommended to be given to kids and young adults. First is the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), which provides protection against serogroups A, C, W, and Y. The first dose of this particular vaccine is a must for children ages 11 to 12, followed by a booster dose to be received when the child turns 16 years old.

    The second type of meningococcal vaccine is the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (MenB), which protects against serogroup B. It is primarily given to people 10 years old and above, who are at an increased risk of contracting serogroup B meningococcal infections. The ideal age for receiving this vaccine is between 16 and 18 years, but people 10 years or older who have medical conditions such as a damaged or removed spleen or an immune system disease such as complement component deficiency may also be recommended to get this vaccine.

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    The third type of meningococcal vaccines is the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4), which also provides protection against serogroups A, C, W, and Y. It may be given to people of any age, except children less than 2 years old.

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    As with any vaccine, none of these are 100 %, and it is possible for some to experience side effects after being vaccinated, such as a low fever or redness at the injection site. Other side effects include a headache, muscle or joint pain, nausea or diarrhea, and fever or chills.

    Nevertheless, experts assure parents of the effectiveness of the meningococcal vaccines. The CDC states that since the introduction of meningococcal vaccines, cases of meningococcal disease in the United States have declined.

    Aside from preventing the spread of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, receiving the vaccination can also help make sure that children and young adults stay well, since meningococcal disease can strike even the healthiest people, as Healthy Children reports.

    Moreover, meningococcal diseases can be life-threatening: CDC says that 10 to 15 of 100 people who are infected with meningococcal disease die, and that 11 to 19 people who survive the disease experience long-term disabilities, including deafness, issues with their nervous systems, and even brain damage.

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    Providing children the recommended meningococcal vaccines will help shield them from the devastating effects that meningococcal diseases can cause.

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