As if puberty, self esteem, drugs, alcohol and the Internet weren’t enough, we parents have yet another worry when it comes to our teenagers: bacterial meningitis. This infection attacks the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord, and can infect anyone no matter how old or young.
teens: at risk for bacterial meningitis
Teens and adolescents are considered to be among the subgroups most at risk for contracting bacterial meningitis. Five to 10 percent of people who get bacterial meningitis don’t survive, and another 11 to 19 percent suffer for the rest of their lives with amputation, brain damage, seizures and other health problems. Simple flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache and stiff neck, are the first to appear. Within a couple of hours, the bacterial meningitis progresses very quickly. That’s why it is critical to be able to identify the symptoms and seek medical help right away if meningitis is suspected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parents of adolescents and teens should be educated and aware of the telltale signs of meningitis. While the condition is rare, each year the disease strikes about 3,000 Americans and claims roughly 300 lives.
College students particularly vulnerable
College students, teens and adolescents are often in close contact with their peers. Many of them live in college dorms or go away to camp for the summer. This may be a reason that the American College Health Association (ACHA) reports that adolescents and young adults account for nearly 30 percent of all U.S. meningitis cases. Between 100 and 125 of cases a year occur on college campuses, and approximately 15 college students die from the disease.
The ACHA urges parents to educate their children about certain behaviors that may increase the risk of meningitis. Practicing good hygiene — such as thorough handwashing and not sharing towels, cosmetics, water bottles or food — help lower the risk. Meningitis is passed through oral and respiratory secretions, so sharing drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, as well as kissing, are easy ways to transfer the illness.
In addition to advising safe behaviors, make sure to get your teen the meningococcal vaccination. It’s highly recommended for adolescents, teens and college students under the age of 25 as an effective way to prevent bacterial meningitis. This vaccine is safe, and patients, especially young adults, rarely see any side effects.
Knowing the facts about meningitis and taking the proper precautions can save lives. If you or your loved one is displaying any signs of the disease, don’t wait. Taking immediate action can make all the difference.