Kids Heading to Camp Need Meningococcal Vaccine

By Christina Elston Health Notes Archives - Click Here

Because Nick Springer missed a single vaccination, now he's missing his hands and feet. Frankly, he's lucky to be alive.

Nick's parents sent him to a sleep-away camp in 1999, labeling his clothes and packing all the essentials. "We did everything we were supposed to do," says Nick's mom, Nancy Ford Springer. "What we didn't know was that he was entering a high-risk situation, because he was going to be living with children from all over the world."

At camp, Nick contracted meningococcal meningitis, a serious bacterial infection. He was airlifted to a hospital where doctors placed him in a two-month drug-induced coma. They amputated both of his hands, and his legs to above the knee. His illness could have been prevented by a vaccine, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began recommending for all adolescents and teens in 2005. It's just that his parents didn't know about it. Since then, the family has been working hard to get the word out.

Nancy co-founded the National Meningitis Association (NMA) with other parents whose children had contracted meningococcal disease. Members have testified before the CDC, and worked to promote state legislation mandating that parents be educated about the disease and vaccine recommendations. Here's what they want you to know:

  • Any child age 11 or 12 and up is at risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis - especially those going to camp, on traveling sports teams or in marching band or other groups.

  • The CDC recommends that all children receive a meningococcal conjugate vaccine at age 11 or 12. Teens not vaccinated at that time should be vaccinated before entering high school, or before reaching college age.

  • Because the vaccine prevents only 80 percent of cases of meningococcal disease, teens should learn other preventive measures, such as not sharing cups, water bottles, drinks, utensils or lip gloss.

A Danger for Any Adolescent

It's not just kids on their way to camp who are at risk. Any adolescent or teen can contract meningococcal disease.

"Just being in high school puts them at risk," says Ford Springer. "Two kids can be sitting in class together, and one of them asks the other for a sip of their Coke."

Preventing meningococcal disease doesn't mean kids have to give up activities they love. In fact, after his recovery, Nick attended camp for three more years. But this time, he was vaccinated. Though the disease is rare - striking about 900 U.S. adolescents and teens a year - it can lead to hearing loss, brain damage, kidney disease, limb amputations, and death. "These things can happen, and they do happen," says Ford Springer. "And if you can prevent them, it's a no-brainer."

Christina Elston is a senior editor and health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.

Posted June 2007.

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