In the United States between 1998 and 2007, around 1,500 people were infected with meningococcal disease, ]]>a type of meningitis]]>, according to the National Meningitis Association. The bacterium Neisseria meningitidis causes meningococcal disease, with the majority of cases occurring in children and adolescents. When a person becomes infected, Neisseria meningitidis causes an inflammation of the meninges, which cover both the spinal cord and the brain. Symptoms of meningococcal disease include photophobia (a sensitivity to light, purpura (bruise-like areas), a severe headache, nausea, vomiting, petechiae (a rash that has pinpoint red spots), and a stiff neck. Some patients with meningococcal disease may have rapid breathing, decreased consciousness and agitation.
Meningococcal disease can be deadly. The National Meningitis Association noted that 11 percent of those infected will die, with MedlinePlus adding that those at highest risk for dying from meningococcal disease are young children and adults who are over age 50. Two vaccines exist in the United States: meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine and meningococcal conjugate vaccine. But nearly half of preteens and teens in the United States have not been vaccinated, according to Voices of Meningitis. Even more shocking is the number of preteens and teens who engage in risky behaviors that put them at greater risk for contracting meningococcal disease.
The National Association of School Nurses, in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur, recently conducted a survey on meningococcal disease. Linda Davis-Alldritt, MA, BSN, RN, FNASN, FASHA, the president of the National Association of School Nurses, told EmpowHer “the survey found that while most preteens and teens are aware that certain activities can increase their risk of getting meningitis, like sharing eating utensils, water bottles or drinking glasses, and even kissing, 82 percent still engage in these activities.