The Indiana State Department of Health is revising the immunization requirements for high school seniors to better protect older kids from getting meningitis when they go to college.
Beginning this fall, incoming seniors should receive a vaccine for Meningococcal B (MenB) in addition to the required Meningococcal (MCV4) vaccine, as recommended by the state health department.
The following year, 2018-19, two doses of the MenB vaccine will be required for all seniors enrolled in a state-accredited high school.
According to state code, students must have the required vaccines to attend school, unless they have a medical or religious exemption filed with the school nurse each year.
The changes were announced Nov. 28 and schools were notified by letter Friday. Schools are required to report all students’ immunization information to the state immunization data registry by Feb. 3.
According to the current immunization schedule, students must get their first dose of MCV4 when they are in Grades 6 through 11 and then another dose in 12th grade, unless they received the first dose after they turned 16. Only one dose is needed in that case, according to the state health department.
The MCV4 vaccine protects against four strains of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Such infections don’t happen often but can be very dangerous when they do.
The two most severe and common forms of meningococcal disease are meningitis and septicemia.
Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord and can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities and death. Septicemia is a bloodstream infection, which can lead to limb amputation or death.
The disease is spread through close contact with someone’s saliva, such as through kissing or sharing eating or drinking utensils, especially with those who live in the same place, like in a college residence hall.
Symptoms include headache, fever and a stiff neck, sensitivity to light, confusion and difficulty concentrating.
Meningitis caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics. There is no specific treatment for viral meningitis, and it usually clears up on its own.
Even with treatment, about 1 in 10 people who are diagnosed with a meningococcal disease will die from it, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it very serious.
Vaccines are available at the Jackson County Health Department, through a family doctor, the Community Health Center of Jackson County and in some cases at local pharmacies.