MIAMI VALLEY — The Ohio Association of School Nurses (OASN) is urging parents to make arrangements now to have their children’s vaccines updated in preparation for the start of a new school year. Parents who have children entering the seventh or 12th grade need to be aware of a new state law mandating the meningitis vaccine for the first time.
“Getting children ready to head back to school can be a stressful time for parents. To avoid one more complication, we urge parents or guardians to schedule their child or children’s vaccinations now,” said Debra Stoner, President of the OASN. Parents are encouraged to use a visit to the doctor as an opportunity to get their children and adolescents all the vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), not just those mandated for school attendance.
A key vaccination parents should be aware of this year is meningitis — a serious disease causing inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. Adolescents are one group considered at risk of contracting bacterial meningitis, which is why the CDC recommends the vaccine for children ages 11-16. CDC also recommends a booster shot for students entering college if their last shot was five or more years ago. Ohio’s new law is consistent with these recommendations.
Though not common, meningitis is often deadly, killing about 15 percent of those who get it. Many survivors lose limbs, suffer hearing loss, or have mental impairment. The disease is difficult to diagnose because early symptoms are similar to flu. Meningitis progresses rapidly and can be fatal in 24 to 48 hours. It is transmissible through contact with nasal secretions or the saliva of an infected person. Parents should teach their children cover a sneeze and not to share eating utensils, drinking glasses or straws, or water bottles with others to help avoid infection. But the best preventative is vaccination.
For high school seniors who will attend college or enter the military, there are actually two meningitis vaccines and the most protection will come from having both. The vaccine included in Ohio’s new law covers four strains of meningitis: A, C, W, and Y. However, vaccines have recently been approved for meningitis B, the strain most common on college campuses. Young people living in close quarters like college dorms or military barracks are at greater risk of contracting bacterial meningitis than their peers. About 100 cases of meningitis occur on college campuses each year. To be most fully protected, parents may want to ask their child’s health care provider about the quadrivalent (four-strain) vaccine and the meningitis B vaccine.