State to require meningitis vaccination for some students

State to require meningitis vaccination for some students

New law calls for incoming sixth- and 12th-graders to get the shots

CHAMPAIGN — Doctors have been recommending meningitis shots for adolescents and teens for years, and a new state law will make it an order for incoming sixth- and 12th-graders.

The law (Public Act 098-0480) takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, but the requirement won't be in place until the 2015-2016 school year, according to Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

Here's what will be required:

— One dose of vaccine for any child entering the sixth grade.

— Two doses for teens entering the 12th grade, unless the first dose was given at age 16 or older, reducing the 12th grade entrance requirement to one dose.

Local public health officials believe requiring the vaccine will make a difference.

"I'd say that there is a pretty significant population that doesn't get this vaccine because it's elective," says Brandon Meline, director of Maternal and Child Health at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

Doctors have been advising meningitis vaccination for adolescents and teens since it became available in 2005, and many parents have made it part of their children's health care.

But some parents still turn it down because it's optional, Meline says.

Some may even be feeling overwhelmed by vaccine requirements, since the state began requiring kids in sixth- through 12th grades to show proof of receiving one dose of recent Tdap vaccination this year, he said. Tdap is intended to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis.

Meningitis — which can be transmitted virally or bacterially — is an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spiral cord. Health scares are typically linked to the more severe bacterial infections.

It's not a disease to mess with, says Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde.

"You can be fine in the morning and dead at night," she said.

Symptoms of meningitis include sudden fever, headache and stiff neck and can include other flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, rash and confusion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jamie Perry, the public health district's nursing services manager, was once the emergency department director at Presence Covenant Medical Center and she's also worked for the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. She recalls meningitis cases in the local community, and cautions parents about the unexpected ways this disease can spread.

Some common ways meningitis is transmitted today, she says: kissing and sharing such items as water bottles, drinking glasses, cigarettes and toothbrushes.

College students can be more susceptible, because they're living in close contact and become worn down by stress, improper diets and not enough sleep, Perry says.

"Their immune system is setting them up for infections in general," she adds.

Meline says parents don't need to wait another year to get their kids vaccinated.

"I wouldn't wait," he advises. "Get it now, and you'll have that many extra years of protection before the recommended college booster."

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