Simple shot could save a child's life

April 17, 2009 11:00:45 AM PDT
Some students and teachers at Revere Middle School are now taking a round of antibiotics after an 8th grader died from meningitis. The young girl attended that west Houston school. Health officials believe she had bacterial meningitis, which is the most deadly kind. Twelve students and nine teachers who were in close contact with her are taking medication as a precaution. Grief counselors are also on hand to talk with students about the loss of their classmate. Health officials say it is unlikely anyone contracted the illness from the girl.

Bacterial meningitis is rare but incredibly deadly. But parents should know they can do something to protect their children. There's a new meningitis vaccine, but this life-saver is largely going unnoticed.

Baylor professor Dr. Carol Baker said, "You can be shopping in the mall and dead six hours later, it moves so fast."

Dr. Baker says that's why meningococcal meningitis is so deadly.

"This is a rare disease, but it's a horrible disease," she said. "It starts like flu symptoms with fever, high fever, headaches, muscle aches. Sometimes one in four, you get a purple rash."

On Friday, a Revere Middle School student died of meningitis, mostly likely bacterial meningitis. The meningitis specimen will come to the city health dept to confirm not only the type, but how virulent it is. Unfortunately, they already know this one was virulent.

Meningitis is an infection in the fluid of the spinal cord and brain. Meningococcal meningitis hits kids age 11-18 especially hard. Fourteen percent die, and one in five survivors have disabilities like deafness and amputations.

A new vaccine against meningococcal meningitis is not required. Texas does require infants to have two other meningitis vaccines, but the strains they protect against don't cover the strain that hits 11-18 year olds.

Kathy Barton with the Houston Department of Health explained, "We highly encourage parents to give their 11-year-olds that vaccine. And they may not need it at 11 but they are certainly going to need it at 18 when they go off to college."

The Revere Middle School student was the first death out of 12 cases this year. Last year 18 people had meningococcal meningitis and one died. Eight years ago 74 Houstonians had meningococcal meningitis. The difference? The new vaccine. Now it's up to parents.

Dr. Baker asked, "If it's your child and you know you were supposed to get them vaccinated, how would you feel?"

The vaccine does not give 100% protection. But it's recommended by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College Health Association.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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