Anyone can get meningitis, but adolescents and teens, as well as college students living in dorms, are at the most risk. Children who travel to countries where the disease is hyperendemic or epidemic and kids with complement component deficiency and functional or anatomic asplenia are also considered to be high risk.
Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria that enter the body and affects the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord. So serious is the threat of this disease that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all 11- and 12-year-olds be vaccinated with meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). The immunization provides protection for only about five years, though, so a booster shot is suggested at age 16. Booster shots are safe and must be given at least eight weeks after the initial dose. Because people ages 16 to 21 are considered to be at the highest risk, it is crucial that the booster is given.
The CDC also recommends the vaccine for children ages 2 to 10 who are at high risk. Those who suffer from complement component deficiency or functional or anatomic asplenia should receive a two-dose primary series of MCV4 given two months apart. Children ages 2 to 6 who are at risk should be revaccinated three years after their first MCV4s and then at five-year intervals if they remain at risk.
If you are a parent of an adolescent, teenager, college student or a child at risk, talk to your doctor. Most provide the meningococcal vaccine in their offices and can refer you to a provider who does if they do not. Meningococcal disease is nothing to take lightly -- make sure to take the necessary steps to protect your child.
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