Local School Nurses Unite Community to Combat Low Meningitis Vaccination Rates Among Preteens and Teens in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County

The Cleveland Department of Public Health and Cuyahoga County Board of Health have joined with the Ohio Association of School Nurses to declare Meningitis Awareness Day to educate families about the dangers of meningococcal meningitis and importance of vaccination

Sep 08, 2011, 08:00 ET from National Association of School Nurses

CLEVELAND, Sept. 8, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Low rates of meningococcal vaccination among adolescents in Ohio has triggered the Cleveland Department of Public Health, Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the Consortium for Healthy and Immunized Communities, Inc. (CHIC) to join forces with the Ohio Association of School Nurses (OASN), to declare Meningitis Awareness Day in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. A recent national public health survey shows that nearly 40 percent of adolescents in Ohio have not been vaccinated against meningococcal disease, which is far below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' goal of 80 percent vaccination coverage for this age group.  

Meningococcal disease, which includes meningitis, may be rare, but it's often devastating and can take the life of an otherwise healthy child in just a single day.  Preteens and teens are at greater risk for meningitis than other age groups, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends they be vaccinated beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age.

This coalition of local community organizations is lending their support to the National Association of School Nurses' (NASN) Voices of Meningitis campaign, in an effort to increase meningitis vaccination rates among preteens and teens in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.  

"No child should lose their life or suffer devastating consequences as a result of a vaccine-preventable disease like meningitis," said Terry Allan, health commissioner, Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

"That's why we strongly encourage parents to get their preteens and teens vaccinated – it is a safe and effective way to help prevent this serious disease," added Karen K. Butler, director of health, Cleveland Department of Public Health.

Parents Urged to Vaccinate Preteens and Teens
Parents should be aware that common behaviors among adolescents – like spending long periods of time with large groups and sharing water bottles or drinking glasses – can put them at risk of contracting meningitis. A new survey commissioned by the NASN confirms that although preteens and teens are aware that these activities may put them at risk, they continue to engage in them:

  • 80 percent are aware that at least one of the following activities may increase their risk for getting meningitis: kissing on the lips, attending sleep-away camp or boarding school, regularly not getting enough sleep, or sharing water bottles, eating utensils or drinking glasses
  • Yet, nearly 82 percent report having engaged in at least one of these activities

According to Debbie Weisbarth, supervisor of school health services, Cuyahoga County Board of Health, and member, OASN, these findings showcase how critical meningococcal vaccination is for teens.  "These results suggest that we can't prevent preteens and teens from engaging in everyday activities that put them at risk for meningitis. However, parents can help ensure their children are protected by getting them vaccinated against meningitis; the risk is too great to leave to chance."

"I didn't know the meningitis vaccine even existed, until my family experienced the devastation this disease can cause firsthand," said Cindy Krejny, who lost her daughter Erin to the disease.  "Other families need to know this disease may be prevented through vaccination.  I do not want another family to experience what we went through."

About Voices of Meningitis
Voices of Meningitis brings together the many "voices" of meningitis – 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 includes 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. The campaign also features a comprehensive website, www.VoicesOfMeningitis.org, where visitors can hear the compelling stories of families that have been personally affected by meningitis and access educational information about the disease and the importance of vaccination.  The campaign also includes a Facebook page, Raise Your Voice Against Meningitis, where users can learn about the disease and pledge to vaccinate their children.

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. In the United States, about 10 percent of the 1000 to 2600 Americans who get meningitis each year will die. For survivors, one in five is left with serious medical problems, including amputation of limbs, brain damage, deafness and organ damage.

Public health officials recommend meningococcal vaccination for preteens and teens beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age. 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 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 14,000 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, or for state specific information, visit www.nasn.org or call 866-627-6767.  For information about the Ohio Association of School Nurses, visit www.oasn.org/.

SOURCE National Association of School Nurses



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