Meningitis is a serious infection where the brain and spinal cord are affected. New York, Chicago, and the U.K. are looking at providing preventative measures.
This week, meningitis vaccinations made global news as the United States and United Kingdom looked to combat the rising tide of deaths. Officials are focusing on children, teenagers, and marginalized communities. Looking to create an immunity from a preventable death, health departments urge citizens to take the free vaccinations.
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New York passed a law requiring seventh graders to get the vaccination or be excluded from school this week. Starting in 2016, students must receive the shot and get a booster in 12th grade, reports the New York Times. Governor Andrew Coumo is said to be reviewing the bill before signing.
Criticism from anti-vaxxers who claim the shot would cause autism were countered with people who have lost loved ones to the disease or sound medical advice. Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther sponsored the bill, saying, "The science tells us that we can do something.”
One of the speakers before the state legislature was Patti Wukovits, whose daughter Kimberly Coffey died right before her senior prom at the age of 17. Testifying that the disease seemed to be similar to the flu, with Kimberly suffering a fever of 101.
Just nine days after being admitted into the hospital, the high school student was declared brain dead. “If she had survived, she would have been a quadruple amputee,” said her mother. "She would have had a tough life.” Coffey was buried in her prom dress.
One out of every ten cases are fatal and the infection affects the spinal cord and brain. Vaccination requirements are currently under review in order to negate the number of deaths.
It's not just the United States looking to create a healthier herd immunity, either. The U.K. will offer a vaccination to combine the four strains of Meningococcal A, C, W and Y (MenACWY) into a single shot, according to The Guardian. Available to all 17- and 18-year-olds, the idea is to combat the infection from spreading on college campuses. And any 19- to 25-year-old starting college will be offered the same shot.
September marks Britain as the first country to start a publicly, funded immunization process against meningitis B. Babies may receive the first booster shot at the age of two months with the Bexsero vaccine, then at four months, then finally at one year.
Public health minister Jane Ellison is grateful for the opportunity to help give parents peace of mind. “The nationwide MenB programme will mean that England leads the world in offering children protection from this devastating disease.” Britain, Ireland, and Scotland will be the first with Northern Ireland and Wales following shortly after.
MenB case numbers have been falling, but 600 is still a high chance of infection, especially since twenty-five percent of those were in children under the age of one. And one-tenth result in death. In 2009, only 22 cases were reported of MenW but last year saw a sharp rise to 117 last year.
Sue Davie, chief executive of Meningitis Now, is thrilled at the new preventative steps. "These measures will save thousands of lives and protect people from losing loved ones to the deadly disease."
Chicago is facing a meningitis outbreak and health officials are urging gay and bisexual men to get the latest vaccine before Pride Fest, according to the local ABC affiliate. Since the disease is spread through saliva, officials want to protect as many people as possible. One city resident has already died and six more infections have been documented.
In the 44th Ward, Alderman Tom Tunney pointed out the vaccination isn't meant to be a statement of guilt towards the community but "all about prevention" and "taking responsibility."
Magda Houlberg from the Howard Brown Health Center agrees. "Especially as we go into the summer months, with the Pride Parade coming and other opportunities where people are going to congregate, it's very important that people act now to access the vaccine."
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Even though treatment is available, officials urge the public to get vaccinated for free at the Chicago Dept. of Public Health. Symptoms include headache, fever and nausea. Anyone who hasn't been vaccinated in five years should receive a booster shot.