Meningococcal Disease – What Parents Should Know

Please take a few minutes to check out these must-know facts and guidelines on Meningococcal disease, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is Meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, also called meningococcus. Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., living in close quarters, kissing, sharing drinks, eating off same fork). People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.

Who can get Meningococcal disease?
Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but it is more common in infants and children. Other persons at increased risk include household contacts of a person known to have had this disease, immunocompromised people, and people traveling to parts of the world where meningococcal disease is prevalent.

What are the symptoms?
A common outcome of meningococcal infection is meningitis. When caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria it is known as meningococcal meningitis. When someone has meningococcal meningitis, the protective membranes covering their brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges, become infected and swell. The symptoms include:

• Fever
• Headache
• Stiff Neck
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Increased sensitivity to light
• Altered mental status (confusion)

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. In newborns and infants, symptoms (fever, headache, neck stiffness) may be difficult to notice. The infant may appear to be irritable, inactive, vomiting or feeding poorly.

Another common outcome of meningococcal infection is bloodstream infection, either septicemia or bacteremia, and the more serious of the two is septicemia. When someone has meningococcal septicemia, the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply, damaging the walls of the blood vessels and causing bleeding into the skin and organs. Symptoms may include:

• Fatigue
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Rapid breathing
• Cold chills
• Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen
• Red dots which can progress to dark purple rash
Please note: Meningitis and septicemia can sometimes occur together.

If you think you or your child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.

How is Meningococcal disease treated?
Meningococcal disease can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. If meningococcal disease is suspected, antibiotics are given right away. In some cases the infection has caused too much damage to the body for antibiotics to prevent death or serious long-term problems. Depending on how serious the infection is, other treatments may also be necessary. These can include such things as breathing support, medications to treat low blood pressure, and wound care for parts of the body with damaged skin.

How can Meningococcal disease be prevented?
Vaccination is key. Keeping up to date with the recommended immunizations is the best defense against the disease. Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all children at age 11-12 years, with a booster at 16 years. Children with certain underlying medical issues, or those who are traveling to certain areas, may need to be vaccinated earlier.

Available vaccines cover most, but not all strains. Even if you have been vaccinated, there is still a chance you can develop a meningococcal infection. People should know the symptoms of meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicemia since early recognition and quick medical attention are critical. In addition, maintaining healthy habits, such as getting plenty of rest and not coming into close contact with people who are sick, can help.

For more information, please visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/index.html.

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About Respiratory Synctial Virus (RSV)

The flu is not the only virus that local hospitals have been seeing this winter, other bugs – such as RSV, which causes cold-like symptoms – are making the rounds.

RSV can lead to serious illness, especially in infants and older adults. Infants and young children may experience a fever, reduced appetite, runny nose, cough, and wheezing. Older children and adults may have a runny nose, sore throat, headache, cough, and a feeling of general sickness.

RSV spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending respiratory droplets into the air. These droplets can end up in other people’s eyes, mouths or noses, where they can cause infection. While there is no RSV vaccine, there are ways to help prevent infection.

To help prevent the spread of RSV, people who have cold-like symptoms should:

• Cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing

• Wash their hands often with soap and water for 15–20 seconds

• Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others

• Refrain from kissing others.

To learn more, please visit the following helpful links:

http://www.choc.org/healthlibrary/topic.cfm?PageID=P02541

http://www.cdc.gov/features/rsv/index.html

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Who Needs a Flu Vaccine?

Practically everyone. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for everybody 6 months and older. That includes healthy kids, as well as those with medical conditions. And it also includes you, Mom, especially if you are pregnant. Did you know the flu vaccine will protect you and your baby now — and your baby for the first few months of life?

CHOC Children’s infectious diseases specialist Jasjit Singh, M.D., has some helpful answers to questions we’re frequently asked about the seasonal flu vaccine.

Q. Why does a healthy child need a flu vaccine?
A. A child’s health status does not automatically prevent some of the serious complications associated with the flu. Children under 1 year of age who get the seasonal flu have extremely high rates of hospitalization. And in the last few years, half of the pediatric deaths from influenza have occurred in previously healthy children. This year’s flu vaccine protects against two new influenza strains, plus the H1N1 virus.

Q. My baby is younger than 6 months — how can I protect him during flu season?
A. Make sure that everyone in your home — siblings and grandparents, too — and daycare providers get a flu vaccine. This reduces the likelihood of your baby coming into contact with the virus. Also important: Wash your hands and use respiratory etiquette during flu season. There are many other respiratory viruses out there besides the seasonal flu, and the flu vaccine cannot protect against all of them.

Q. I’ve been hearing about “herd immunity” — what is that exactly?
A. Herd immunity protects the youngest, most vulnerable members of our community who cannot get the flu vaccine. When more members of the community are immunized, there is less chance of an influenza outbreak.
Also, some children have weak immune systems and remain vulnerable even after getting the flu vaccine. Their protection depends on herd immunity, as well.

Q. I’ve heard there is a nasal mist alternative to the shot.
A. The traditional flu shot is approved for children 6 months and older. The intranasal flu vaccine is an option for healthy kids 2 and older.

Earlier is better, but it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine. Contact your pediatrician.

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Teen Immunizations – What Parents Should Know

Although August has come to an end, it’s not too late to recognize National Immunization Awareness Month – a great opportunity to get up to speed on your kids immunizations. Talk to your family doctor about what vaccines your kids need at their next checkup. And remember, vaccines are not just for your little ones. Your preteens and teens need to be vaccinated too! Vaccine protection from some childhood vaccines wears off, so your teen may need a booster shot. As they get older, they are more at risk for catching certain diseases so they need protection. In addition, the recommended immunization schedule is regularly updated to include new vaccines and has probably changed since your child was first immunized.

Dr. Jasjit Singh, pediatric infectious disease subspecialist at CHOC Children’s, provides us with helpful answers to some frequently asked questions:

Q: What are the recommended vaccines for 2012 for preteens and teens?
A: The current recommendations for preteen and teen immunizations include:

Tdap vaccine – (Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine) This vaccine protects against diphtheria and pertussis, in addition to tetanus. Pertussis is particularly on the rise in teenagers, and protection wanes over time, leading to thie need for this booster shot. The Tdap vaccine is recommended for the 11- to 12-year-old checkup, and since last year, is required for all children entering grades 7-12 in California. This will not only protect your teen, it will help protect young infants who are too young to be vaccinated, from getting exposed.

Meningococcal vaccine – The meningococcal vaccine protects teens against some forms of bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection of the brain and spinal cord that kills approximately 10 to 15% of people who get it, even when treated. The first dose is recommended at age 11 or 12, followed by a booster (2nd shot) at age 16-18.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine – This vaccine protects against HPV, a virus that can cause cervical cancer. The vaccine is indicated for all girls from the ages of 9 to 26 years old. The vaccine is also recommended for boys to protect against genital warts, and help prevent certain types of genital cancers. Teens will need three doses of this vaccine.

Influenza (flu) vaccine – This vaccine protects against different strains of seasonal influenza, which kills thousands of people in the US yearly.  A yearly dose is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.

For a full schedule and more information, please click here:
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/who/teens/downloads/parent-version-schedule-7-18yrs.pdf

Q: What are “catch-up” vaccines?
A: Catch-up vaccines are for those children who were not immunized, or fully immunized, on schedule.  It is important to get these children immunized appropriately as soon as possible so that they do not remain at risk from vaccine preventable diseases.

Q: Why are immunizations for teens so important? How do they prevent diseases?
A: Vaccinating your teenager is important to keep them as healthy as possible.  These vaccines will keep them from contracting diseases that may have immediate life-threatening consequences, such as meningitis, or from health problems down the road, such as genital cancers.  Vaccines work by giving us appropriate immunity to a disease, without having to experience the disease itself.  Immunization is one of the most successful measures we have to avoid the consequences of diseases that caused a huge toll on our children’s health in the past.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

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Protect Your Child With Vaccinations

National Infant Immunization Week (April 21-28) is coming up, and highlights the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases. This important campaign is a call to action for parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers to ensure that infants are fully immunized against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases, such as influenza, hepatitis, pertussis, and more.

In the United States, vaccines have reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed thousands of infants and children each year. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable disease and death still exist and can be passed on to people who are not immunized. These diseases result in doctor visits, hospitalizations, and even death.

To help protect your child, be sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician to ensure that your little one is up-to-date on his immunizations.

For a schedule of recommended immunizations for children from birth to six years old, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, please click here: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/downloads/parent-ver-sch-0-6yrs.pdf

For an adolescent immunization schedule, or to learn more, please click here: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/default.htm

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