Keeping your teens healthy this back to school

(BPT) - Tommy Kent was an average 19-year-old who loved life and surfing. When he developed flu-like symptoms, no one could have guessed that this otherwise healthy teen would enter the hospital at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve and lose his young life by 12:50 a.m. on Christmas to a disease called meningococcal meningitis.

“I considered myself an educated mom about my children’s health, but I was shocked and confused when my son was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis,” says Robbin Thibodeaux, Kent's mother. “I didn’t know that a simple vaccination might have saved his life.”

Thibodeaux is not alone. According to a survey conducted on behalf of the Voices of Meningitis campaign; more than two in three mothers have little to no knowledge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to prevent meningococcal meningitis. The recommendation advises that a child receive one dose of the vaccine at age 11 or 12 years, followed by a second vaccination at age 16. Voices of Meningitis, an initiative from the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) and Sanofi Pasteur, aims to address the survey findings and educate people about meningitis.

Meningococcal meningitis is a serious bacterial infection that includes the swelling of the tissue around the brain and spinal cord. Although rare, meningococcal meningitis can be potentially fatal and an otherwise healthy person can die within 24 hours of the first symptoms appearing. According to the CDC, 10-15 percent of those who contract the disease die from it each year, while nearly 20 percent of survivors suffer amputation of arms, legs, fingers or toes; neurological damage; deafness; or kidney damage.

“With the new school year around the corner, it is a good time for parents to talk to their child’s health  care provider to make sure their child is up-to-date on his or her meningitis vaccinations – both the initial and the second vaccination,” says, Beth Mattey, MSN, RN, NCSN, the National Association of School Nurses’ President Elect and Voices of Meningitis spokesperson.

Meningococcal meningitis strikes young people, particularly those 16-21 years of age, possibly because they tend to spend time participating in common everyday activities that can facilitate the transmission of the bacteria that can cause the disease, such as kissing and sharing items that result in the transfer of saliva and living in close quarters (e.g., dormitories) with other young people.

“I don’t want any other parent to lose a child to this terrible, but preventable disease. Protect your children and ask your doctor for the vaccine, even if it’s not required in your state,” says Thibodeaux.

Parents can visit to learn more about meningococcal meningitis, hear stories from families who have been impacted by the disease and find educational materials and resources.