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It’s Time Teens and Young Adults Talked About Meningitis

In this sponsored content by GSK, Dr. Leonard R. Friedland, Vice President, Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health, Vaccines North America at GSK, explains why young Americans - and their parents - need to take the time to learn more about meningitis and actions that they can take that may help prevent it.

Written by Dr. Leonard Friedland Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

This is one person’s experience; other people’s experiences with meningococcal disease may be different.

Jamie Schanbaum was thriving at her first semester in her dream school, the University of Texas at Austin, when she started feeling sick and thought she had the flu or was having an asthma attack. When her sister called to offer her a ride to school, she said she thought she needed to go to the hospital instead. She was diagnosed with meningococcal disease, often referred to simply as meningitis, an uncommon inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and the spinal cord that appears suddenly and may progress aggressively. Within 14 hours she went from feeling fine to being hospitalized for seven months. During that time, she watched as her legs turned red, then purple, then black. To save her life, both legs had to be amputated below the knees, as were Jamie’s fingers.

Although meningitis is uncommon, about one in 10 of those infected by the disease die from it, and one in five survivors may be left with permanent disabilities such as brain damage, kidney dysfunction or loss of limbs.1  Now is the time for young Americans – and their parents – to take a few minutes and learn more about this disease and how to help prevent it.

While most teens and young adults in the US have probably been vaccinated against some forms of bacterial meningitis, vaccination does not eliminate the risk and vaccination may not protect all recipients. Meningitis can be caused by several different serogroups – groups of bacteria containing a common polysaccharide or sugar capsule. There are five vaccine-preventable groups of meningitis and while most young Americans have been vaccinated against groups A, C, Y and W, fewer than 10 percent have been vaccinated against group B, which causes approximately 30 percent of US cases of meningococcal disease. 2,3,4

Often living in close quarters with others in dormitories and engaging in various forms of social behaviors, including kissing and sharing of cups and bottles, teens and young adults are at higher risk to come into contact with meningococcal bacteria, which spread through contact with an infected person’s oral or nasal secretions.5,4 Here are three actions that you can take that may help to protect you.

First, know the symptoms. These might include sudden onset of fever, accompanied by a strong headache and a stiff neck. Nausea and vomiting also frequently occur, as does an exaggerated sensitivity to light.6 Seek immediate medical attention if you have these symptoms or if you are uncertain.

Second, take precautions. Avoid sharing drinks with friends, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands often.

Third, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated. If you are between the ages of 16 and 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you speak to your doctor about getting vaccinated against meningitis B.7 Per the CDC, keeping up-to-date with recommended immunizations is the best defense against meningococcal disease.

Jamie Schanbaum went on to become a gold medal winning Para-athlete and a strong and vocal advocate of meningitis awareness. She is now working with GSK to help spread awareness of the disease. Though this was Jamie’s experience, other people’s experience with meningococcal disease may be different. Ideally, we will learn from what she went through.

When college-aged children come home to visit or during breaks, set up appointments to talk to the family doctor about recommended vaccinations. Remember the three actions you can take.

Jamie Schanbaum is a patient advocate and a survivor of meningococcal disease. She is not a healthcare provider. Jamie was compensated by GSK for her participation.

Sponsored by GSK.

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