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What You Need to Know About Meningococcal Disease

By Kelly Whalen

Teens and their parents often have a lot on their minds and to-do lists. They may be focused on school, work and career paths, social lives, and navigating the life changes that happen on the journey from teenager to adult. While 94% of parents want to prepare their children to take more responsibility for their preventive health care, misinformation or lack of information can keep parents and teens in the dark.1 A new national survey conducted by Pfizer Inc, in partnership with TIME Health, surveyed over 2,000 parents of high school teens and found there were many such misconceptions about an uncommon but deadly disease, meningococcal disease, among parents of high school students.1,3,4 There are many ways you can empower your teen to take proactive measures when it comes to their health.

Teens and Preventive Health Care

Meningococcal disease, including meningitis, is only one of a myriad of health issues teens and young adults face. It's important to teach teens how to take care of themselves. An article from TIME Health, "Why It's More Important Than Ever to Talk to Teens About Preventive Health," shares key information about how to help teens understand how to care for their health.2

Create a relationship with their doctors

While many people avoid the doctor's office, regular checkups and visits are key to help teach your teen to have an open relationship with their doctor. Stepping out of the room and allowing your child to talk to their doctor and nurse can help provide your teen the privacy needed to ask tough health questions. It's a good idea to reassure them that their doctor has probably heard all of their health concerns before and won't judge them.

Educate yourself

Learn about common health risks to teens and young adults to help inform them about various behaviors that can expose them. This can be information found through trusted resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and speaking to your child's doctor. When you are educated, it's easier to discuss health risks with your teen or young adult.

Keep track of their health history

While it's easy to remember first steps or the first day of kindergarten, it's often harder to remember what year your child had the second dose of a vaccine or suffered from the chicken pox. Keep track of your child's health history so they are informed as they begin to manage their health care as a teen and an adult.

Preventing Meningococcal Disease

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, but serious disease that can attack without warning.3,4 There are five common types of bacteria—groups A, B, C, W, and Y—that can cause the majority of this potentially deadly disease and for which vaccines are available in the United States.4 In some cases, it can lead to meningitis, which is an inflammation of the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease, including group B meningococcal disease (MenB), can lead to death within 24 hours and in survivors may result in life-altering, significant long-term disabilities. 5,6,7,8

Know the signs

The survey found that 37% of parents think a sore throat is an early sign of meningococcal disease, when in fact the initial symptoms most often mirror the flu with nausea, fever, vomiting and headache and may also later present with a stiff neck.1,Error! Bookmark not defined. These symptoms can come on very quickly and without warning, so it's important to see a health care provider as soon as possible if these symptoms arise.

While MenB accounts for nearly 60% of all U.S. meningococcal cases found in teens and young adults, ages 16 to 23, only half (52%) of parents believe that teens and young adults are at increased risk for meningococcal disease.1,9 This increased risk is partially a result of typical behavior among this age group such as sharing utensils, drinks, food, and kissing.10 An infographic from TIME Health, "The Perception vs. Reality of Meningitis," highlights some of the misinformation surrounding meningococcal disease, including meningitis.11

Read more at TIME.com about The Perception vs. Reality of Meningitis and Why It's More Important Than Ever to Talk to Teens About Preventive Health.

1 Data on File. Pfizer Inc, New York, NY.

2 TIME. Why It's More Important Than Ever to Talk to Teens About Preventive Health.
http://time.com/partners/meet-meningitis/132766/?prx_t=acUDA30kjAW-IPA. Accessed July 31, 2018.

3 Poland GA. Prevention of meningococcal disease: current use of polysaccharide and conjugate vaccines. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50:S45-S53.

4 Serogroup B Meningococcal (MenB) VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website.
https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mening-serogroup.html. Updated August 9, 2016. Accessed July 31, 2018.

5 Meningococcal Vaccines for Preteens, Teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website.
http://www.cdc.gov/features/meningococcal/. Updated April 16, 2018. Accessed May 4, 2018.

6 Thompson MJ, Ninis N, Perera R, et al. Clinical recognition of meningococcal disease in children and adolescents. Lancet. 2006;367(9508):397-403.

7 Borg J, Christie D, Coen PG, Pooy R, Viner RM. Outcomes of meningococcal disease in adolescence: prospective, matched-cohort study. Pediatrics. 2009;123:e502-e509.

8 Sabatini C, Bosis S, Semino M, Senatore L, Principi N, Esposito S. Clinical presentation of meningococcal disease in childhood. J Prev Med Hyg. 2012;53:116-119.

9 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal disease. Enhanced meningococcal disease surveillance report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal//downloads/NCIRD-EMS-Report.pdf. Updated September 15, 2017.

10 Tully J, Viner RM, Coen FG, et al. Risk and protective factors for meningococcal disease in adolescents: matched cohort study. BMJ. 2006;232(7539):445-450.

11TIME. The Perception vs. Reality of Meningitis.
http://time.com/partners/meet-meningitis/132766/?prx_t=b8UDADEojAW-IPA. Accessed July 31, 2018.