Uni vaccines important too

Last updated 09:30 13/02/2013

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With university starting soon and throngs of students moving into hostels, it is worth thinking about immunising your teen against meningococcal disease.

According to the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC), hostel living can increase the risk of contracting the disease.

"The big thing for students when they live in hostels is that we know meningococcal disease spreads quickly amongst groups of people living together. There are other things too, but meningococcal disease is one of the things that you can be immunised against," Theo Brandt, Immunisation Advisory Centre communications manager told Essential Mums.

"There are a number of different sorts of meningococcal disease. In New Zealand the B and C strain are the most common."

According to IMAC, at least 13 groups of meningococcal disease have been identified and of these groups A, B, C, Y and W-135 are the most likely to cause disease in humans.

There is no vaccine available for the B group, but there is one for the C group, one of the nastiest and the most common strain in New Zealand.

What is it?

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria Meningitidis, humans are the only host of this bacteria and although it is commonly carried in the nose and throat, it does not usually cause disease.

The bacteria can be transferred from person to person through contact with saliva such as intimate kissing and in some cases, saliva on shared drink.

The bacteria may also be shared through droplets of saliva in the air from people coughing, sneezing or laughing.

What are the symptoms?

According to IMAC, the initial symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other infectious illnesses such as influenza.

Symptoms usually start and progress quickly, often within 24 hours. Older children and adults may have a fever, malaise, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and pains, drowsiness, headache, dislike of bright light, neck stiffness or have a rash or spots.
Almost 80 per cent of cases will develop a rash that does become pale/go white when pressed on. This type of rash is often a late sign of infection.

Is it serious?
According to IMAC, if meningococcal bacteria pass into the blood, disease usually progresses very quickly.

A person with meningococcal disease could develop meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain), septicaemia (blood infection) or pneumonia (lung inflammation).

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One to two people out of every 10 who survive meningococcal disease have long term complications, such as extensive skin scarring, limb amputation, hearing loss, seizures or brain injury and even when the disease is identified and treated early, about one person out of every 10 will die.

"It is recommended for adolescents to have this vaccine because it is a good preventative medicine," says Brandt.

"If people are travelling, it would be a good idea for them to have the vaccine as well."

Brandt says if parents are concerned about their children who are going into a hostel can contact IMAC on 0800 466863 or visit IMAC's website.

- Essential Mums

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