Meningitis & Your Baby: Three Things To Think About

This post was authored by Jason Penn and posted to The Eye Opener on April 26th, 2011.

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A quick story.  I remember opening the piece of mail. It was a quick note from a school official informing the student population that there was a suspected incidence of meningitis at another local university. The long and short of it was that if, as a residential student, I didnt want to move back home with my parents, I wanted to continue to live on campus, I would need to sign a waiver or be vaccinated.

Too many years have gone by, and  I can no longer remember what I chose, but the thought of meningitis made me think very carefully about whether I wanted to be vaccinated. At the time I didn’t know much about meningitis, but with the stern warning I received in the form of that letter, I researched and learned that the effects of bacterial meningitis (commonly caused by Neisseria meningitides) can be devastating. My choice notwithstanding, the choice of “to vaccinate or not” has recently been extended to that parents of infants and toddlers.

1. The signs of meningitis

The classic symptoms of meningitis are a high fever, headache and stiff neck. Detection of these symptoms, particularly headache and stiff neck are certainly difficult to detect in infants and toddlers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants with meningitis may appear slow or inactive, have vomiting, be irritable, or be feeding poorly. Seizures are also a possibility.

2. An Ounce of Prevention: A vaccine is available

I was fortunate; I had the choice. I was a young adult, and I had access to a vaccine. Until recently, however, parents could not make a similar choice for their small children. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a vaccine to prevent meningitis in babies and toddlers. Specifically, the FDA has approved the vaccine Menactra for usage in babies and toddlers. Menactra has been frequently used to vaccinate non-toddlers and non-elderly (ages 2 to 55). For now, the FDA has approved the usage of Menactra in babies as young as 9 months.

3. Is it safe to give to your child?

The FDA has ushered Menactra into the great debate of “to vaccinate or not to vaccinate.” I’ve read the literature and opinions of others on the topic. Each position has its passionate advocates. Putting the debate aside, the potential harm created by meningitis is well documented. Even though rates of meningitis are low in the United States, infants and toddlers are particularly vulnerable.  Meningitis can develop rapidly; in a matter of hours or days.  Even with proper care, the FDA says up to 15% of people who develop meningitis die from the infection. Of the people that contract meningitis, one in four will suffer complications such as brain damage or hearing loss. A scary number for any parent to consider. So, no matter what side of the debate you stand on, at least you now have a choice for your baby.

It doesn’t say “leave a response” down below for nothing. Feel free to let us know…

QUESTION:  What choice will you make?  Is vaccinating with Menactra a choice you will make?


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One Response to “Meningitis & Your Baby: Three Things To Think About”

  1. TheresaNo Gravatar says:

    Neisseria meningitidis is only one type of bacterial meningitis; it is very aggressive and often deadly. The only real form of primary prevention is this vaccine. Children in daycare are (or school environments) are more susceptible. I am a huge proponent of vaccinations because we have the data to support their usage. Vaccination with Menactra, however, does not prevent other forms of meningitis; it specifically addresses Neisseria meningitidis meningitis. I just want to clarify this for all of the parents possibly considering such a vaccine.
    Other bacteria that are known to cause meningitis in infants and children are Streptococcus species, Haemophilus influenza, Staphylococcal species and even Listeria. Strep bacteria and H. flu are notoriously associated with upper respiratory infections, including sinusitis, ear infections and pneumonia. There has been an available vaccine for H. flu for years for children, and there has been a Strep pneumonia vaccine for adults. Staph and strep species also colonize our skin and mucous membranes, sometimes allowing for infections to occur with minor abrasions or skin wounds.
    There has been an entire contingency of advocates refusing standard childhood vaccinations more recently. With that particular belief system gaining ground, there has been a resurgence of childhood illnesses, like the outbreak of measles in Boston, recent outbreaks of mumps, and even potentially life-threatening acute illnesses like epiglottitis from H. flu! These conditions had essentially been eradicated for years until recently. Hmmm.
    I mention Listeria because it is commonly found in unpasteurized goat’s milk. There is also a contingency in the public that avoids the introduction of standard pasteurized cow’s milk for a variety of reasons, one of which is the development of milk allergies in children. As a replacement, people are giving infants and children unpasteurized goat’s milk, exposing them to this particular bacteria and possibly another deadly or devastating case of meningitis!
    So, the moral of my story is have ALL the facts before you make a decision, not just join some popular band-wagon. Also be aware that there are multiple bacteria, viruses and even fungi that cause meningitis. The vaccine in this blog addresses only one!

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