OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma State Department of Health is urging parents to have their children vaccinated against bacterial meningitis before kids leave for summer camp or college.
"Twenty percent of all meningococcal disease cases in the U.S. occur among adolescents and college students," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley.
"Given this increased risk, it is important to have your children immunized before summer activities begin to help ensure they are protected against the disease. In fact, the meningococcal vaccine is required for college freshmen who will live in on-campus student housing in Oklahoma."
Meningococcal disease was brought to the attention of many Green Country residents with the deaths of two Oologah-Talala students. One meningtitis survivor, Jeremiah Mitchell, is undergoing major facial reconstruction June 1.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), along with the Indian Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other key medical groups recommend routine meningococcal vaccination for all adolescents beginning at 11 years of age to help protect them from the disease. Vaccination takes only one dose.
The most common illnesses associated with meningococcal disease are meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), or a bloodstream infection. The disease can develop and spread quickly throughout the body. So quickly, in fact, that even with rapid and appropriate treatment, meningococcal disease can kill an otherwise healthy young person within hours.
"Early symptoms of meningococcal disease can be easily confused with the flu, so a quick diagnosis is not always simple," said Dr. Bradley. "Immunization is the most effective way to prevent the disease."
Vaccination protects against three of the four most common types of meningococcal bacteria that circulate in the United States. Among adolescents, up to 83 percent of cases are potentially preventable through use of the vaccine.
Early symptoms of meningococcal disease resemble those of common viral illnesses and may include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches or a stiff neck. Teens and young adults may not know to seek medical care immediately, allowing the disease to quickly spread throughout the body, and possibly cause death or permanent disability such as brain damage, deafness or limb amputations.