PEORIA — Meningitis B is not common, but you really don’t want your kid to get it.
One out of 10 people who get it die, and those who survive have a one in five chance of serious complications, such as the loss of a limb, loss of hearing, brain damage or neurological problems.
Children in Illinois are required to get the meningococcal conjugate vaccination for strains A,C, W and Y before sixth grade and a booster before 12th grade, but the vaccination for meningitis B, which just came out two years ago, is optional. A lot of parents don’t even know about it. That’s why EverThrive Illinois has launched a statewide campaign called B Aware.
EverThrive Illinois, based in Chicago, was formerly known as the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition.
“We need to fight for better education of parents and students on this pubic health danger — the statistics are alarming,” said Sessy Nyuman, executive director of EverThrive Illinois. “Each year approximately 1,000 people contract meningococcal disease in the United States.”
One hundred percent of all meningococcal outbreaks on college campuses in the United States since 2011 have been from meningitis B, according to EverThrive Illinois. While meningitis B is more prevalent in the general population in other countries, in the U.S., college campuses are ground zero. Princeton University reported nine cases between 2013 and 2015, including one student who died. It is now requiring students to get vaccinated for meningitis B. The University of Southern California Santa Barbara, Providence College in Rhode Island and the University of Oregon all have dealt with meningitis B outbreaks in recent years. Last year, a single student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign contracted the disease.
College students are more likely to contract meningitis B because they live, study and socialize in close quarters. Meningococcal bacteria is spread through direct contact with respiratory and throat secretions from carriers infected with Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. Sharing beverages and cigarettes and kissing are ideal ways to transmit the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Some of these colleges have 40,000 kids in one place, and this is the age when they start having relationships,” said Dr. Ban Al-Sayyed, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with OSF HealthCare in Peoria. “Before they go to college is a good age to get vaccinated for meningitis B.”
Meningococcal disease occurs in two forms, either inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meningococcal meningitis) or a severe blood infection (meningococcemia), according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. It usually starts with a sudden onset of fever and headache. A stiff neck, a red rash, nausea and vomiting can also occur. In severe cases, the disease can progress to seizures and coma.
The ideal age for vaccination for meningitis B is 16 to 18, according to the CDC.
“Young people do receive a booster for the meningococcal conjugate vaccination at 16, so it would make sense at that time to get the other meningitis vaccine,” said Katy Endress, epidemiologist with the Peoria City/County Public Health Department.
Vaccinations can be done at the PCCPHD, but they don’t keep the vaccine on hand. Call ahead so they can order it, which might take a month, said Endress.
The delay probably won’t be that long with most other health care providers, said Jerry Storm, senior vice president of pharmacy services at OSF HealthCare. But since the vaccine wasn’t being promoted until now, some doctors might not have it on hand. Call ahead to make sure. It usually takes two weeks after vaccination for it to become effective, said Al-Sayyed.
While the chance of getting meningitis B is low, college students are at increased risk.
“It’s avoidable, so go ahead and get the vaccine,” said Al-Sayyed. “You want the kids to be protected when they are in college.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.