Meningitis deaths prompt CDC to recommend vaccine for teens

Teenagers should get vaccinated to protect against the bacteria that causes meningococcal meningitis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends in a report published Thursday.

Publication in the Jan. 27 issue of "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" formalizes the recommendations made this fall by the federal agency's advisory committee on immunization practices.

The committee's guidelines call for "routine vaccination of adolescents, preferably at age 11 or 12 years, with a booster dose at age 16," the report says of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine.

"CDC is hopeful that doctors will begin implementing these recommendations right away," agency spokesman Tom Skinner said Thursday. Nationwide, approximately 2,600 people contract meningococcal disease each year. Of those, about 1 in 10 die, according to the CDC.

Those who survive may experience long-term disabilities, such as brain damage, kidney failure, loss of arms or legs, chronic nervous-system problems or hearing loss.

Meningococcal infections are contagious, typically affecting pre-teenage children, adolescents, college freshmen and travelers, the CDC reports.

On Jan. 6, Janelle Moorehead, an 18-year-old softball player at Monmouth University in New Jersey, suddenly died of meningococcemia, a severe bacterial infection in the bloodstream, her doctor said. The meningococcal bacteria also causes meningitis, a disease that inflames membranes around the brain and spine.

Vaccines that fight the bacteria have been available since the 1970s, but they don't prevent all cases of the disease. Sometimes, second doses are advised for people considered at high risk of infection, including college freshmen and people who have been exposed to a meningitis outbreak.

About the disease:

-- Infection spreads through exchange of saliva, by coughing, kissing or sharing drinking glasses, not by casual contact or breathing the same air.

-- People living together, those in day-care centers or anyone with direct contact with a person's saliva, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, would be at increased risk.

-- Telltale signs of infection include severe headache, extreme neck stiffness, high fever, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, altered mental state and a rash. People suffering from such sympto

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