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Meningitis: A Rare and Potentially Deadly Disease

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February 14, 2011

Video: Health Officials Urge Parents to Vaccinate Preteens and Teens

More than half of San Diego County preteens and teens have not received the meningococcal vaccine or other adolescent immunizations, leaving many vulnerable to disease.

February 13-19, 2011 is Preteen Vaccine Week and the County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) and other local health officials, together with a local meningococcal meningitis survivor, are encouraging parents to immunize their adolescent children with all the recommended vaccines, including the vaccine against meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial disease that can kill a healthy young person in one day.

“Meningococcal meningitis is rare, but it is a terrible and potentially deadly disease,” Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County Public Health Officer. “Meningitis and other adolescent diseases can be prevented. Vaccinating your children is the best line of defense against disease.”

In addition to getting the meningococcal vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that preteens and teens receive immunization against pertussis or whooping cough, chickenpox, Human Papillomavirus, and influenza.

Every year, 1,000 to 2,600 people get meningococcal disease in the United States. Of those, 10 to 15 percent die. In the last five years, one young person has died from meningococcal meningitis in San Diego County, where about 11 cases are reported every year. Another 11-19 percent of people infected with meningitis lose their arms or legs, become deaf, develop problems with their nervous systems or suffer seizures or strokes.

Jonathan DeGuzman, 28 years of age, survived meningitis six years ago, but doctors amputated his fingers and feet to save his life. “Meningitis changed my life forever,” said DeGuzman, who is studying nursing at San Diego State University. “If my parents had known that I was at risk for contracting the disease or that there was a vaccine to prevent it, I would have been vaccinated.”

Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but it is most common in teenagers ages 15 to 19 and college freshmen who live in dormitories. The bacteria can be spread by sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils, or water bottles; kissing; smoking; and living in close quarters.

In San Diego County, only 47 percent of preteens and teens have been vaccinated against meningococcal disease. The vaccinations rates for the other adolescent diseases range from 30 percent for influenza to 81 percent against chickenpox.

HHSA has partnered with the California School Nurses Organization’s Voices of Meningitis campaign to reinforce that vaccination is the best protection available against the disease.

“As a school nurse, I want parents to understand the importance of meningococcal vaccination in helping to keep their children safe and healthy,” said Dale Parent, a nurse with the San Diego Unified School District.

To learn more about the Voices of Meningitis campaign, visit For more information on vaccines, call the HHSA Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966 or visit    


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