National Survey Shows: Vast Majority of Preteens and Teens Engage in Activities That May Put Them at Risk for Contracting Meningitis

New Back-to-School Immunization Push Urges Parents to Get Preteens and Teens Vaccinated to Help Protect Against the Potentially Deadly Disease

  • Almost half of all preteens and teens in the U.S. remain unvaccinated against meningococcal disease, a rare, but serious bacterial infection that can cause meningitis and take the life of an otherwise healthy child in just a single day
  • Survey shows low awareness among preteens, teens and their moms about the risk of meningitis
  • Disney Channel star and singer Tiffany Thornton, who faced death as a teen from meningococcal meningitis, joins the Voices of Meningitis campaign to urge parents to vaccinate their teens as they head back to school

NEW YORK, August 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — A new national survey shows most preteens and teens engage in day-to-day activities that may put them at risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis, a rare, but serious bacterial infection that can cause meningitis and take the life of an otherwise healthy child in just a single day. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN), in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur, conducted the survey as part of its Voices of Meningitis back-to-school vaccination awareness initiative.

The majority of mothers surveyed believe their preteen and teenage children are at little or no risk of getting meningococcal disease. Yet, nearly 82 percent of preteens and teens 11-17 years of age reported engaging in at least one common everyday activity that can spread the bacteria – such as sharing drinking glasses and water bottles, not getting enough sleep, living in close quarters like dormitories, and kissing – and put them at risk for contracting meningitis.

Given that it can be difficult to convince preteens and teens to avoid common everyday activities that put them at risk, the NASN and school nurses nationwide are advising parents that vaccination is the best way to help protect young people from meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination for preteens and teens beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age. However, nearly half of teens in the U.S. have not been immunized, leaving many unprotected against the disease.

“Most of our preteens and teens are unprotected against meningitis, and at the same time are regularly engaging in behaviors that may put them at risk,” said Linda Davis-Alldritt, MA, BSN, RN, FNASN, FASHA, President of the NASN. “While we may not be able to prevent our teens from engaging in these activities, we can take steps to help protect them by making sure they are immunized against meningitis.”

Disney Star Nearly Died from Meningitis

Tiffany Thornton, star of the Disney Channel’s So Random!, nearly lost her life to meningococcal disease as a teen. She and her family were not aware that preteens and teens are recommended for vaccination before she fell ill.

Ms. Thornton now is the national spokesperson for the Voices of Meningitis initiative, which is the NASN’s meningococcal disease educational initiative in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur. The campaign aims to increase awareness about meningococcal immunization for preteens and teens.

“One day I was fine, and the next day I was in the hospital fighting for my life – it happened that fast,” said Ms. Thornton. “If my parents and I had known that teens are at greater risk for meningitis, I would’ve been vaccinated. Families should talk to their child’s school nurse or health-care provider about vaccination today, to help them avoid what my parents and I went through.”

As part of the Voices of Meningitis back to school effort, Ms. Thornton will participate in national media activities aimed at reaching parents and adolescents with vaccination information and encourage them to learn more about the disease via the campaign’s website, www.VoicesOfMeningitis.org.

About Voices of Meningitis

Voices of Meningitis brings together the many “voices” of meningitis – celebrity spokesperson Tiffany Thornton, school nurses, parents whose children have been affected by the disease, survivors of meningococcal meningitis, and public health professionals – to raise awareness about the dangers of meningococcal meningitis and the importance of prevention for preteen and teenage children.

Voices of Meningitis offers educational materials for the public and health-care providers, as well as a public service campaign featuring school nurses, disease survivors, and families affected by meningitis. Along with its comprehensive website, www.VoicesOfMeningitis.org, the campaign also features the “Raise Your Voice Against Meningitis” page on Facebook, where visitors can hear the compelling stories of families that have been personally affected by meningitis and learn how they can raise their voices to help spread awareness about the importance of vaccination for preteens and teens.

Voices of Meningitis is a program of the National Association of School Nurses in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi.

About Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is a serious infection that can cause meningitis (swelling of the brain or spinal cord) or meningococcemia (blood infection). The disease can be spread through common everyday activities, such as sharing drinking glasses, living in close quarters like dormitories, and kissing. Meningococcal disease can be hard to recognize, especially in its early stages, because symptoms are similar to those of more common viral illnesses. Unlike more common illnesses, the disease can progress quickly and may cause death or disability in just a single day. For survivors, one in five is left with serious medical problems, including amputation of limbs, brain damage, deafness and organ damage.

Meningococcal vaccination is recommended for preteens and teens beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age. Parents should talk to their school nurse or health-care provider for more information. Vaccines are available for people who wish to reduce their risk for contracting the disease.

About the Survey

The telephone survey was conducted by Gfk Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications on behalf of the NASN and Sanofi Pasteur among a national random digit dial (RDD) sample of 420 mothers with children 11 through 17 years of age and 400 11- through 17-year-olds. All interviews were conducted April 1-10, 2011. The data were weighted to match key demographics in the national population. The margin of error for survey sample of 11- through 17-year-olds and mothers is, on average, +/- 5 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

About the National Association of School Nurses

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) is a non-profit specialty nursing organization, organized in 1968 and incorporated in 1977, representing school nurses exclusively. NASN has over 15,000 members and 51 affiliates, including the District of Columbia and overseas. The mission of the NASN is “to improve the health and educational success of children and youth by developing and providing leadership to advance the school nursing practice.”

For More Information

For more information about the Voices of Meningitis educational initiative, visit www.VoicesOfMeningitis.org. For information about the National Association of School Nurses, visit www.nasn.org or call 866-627-6767.

Posted: August 2011


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