When my oldest son was in the first grade, he came home with a slip of paper stating that the little girl in the desk in front of him had meningococcal meningitis, and was now hospitalized at the state capitol. This was my first experience with meningitis in children, so I didn’t realize how serious it was for a few hours. My son immediately started complaining of headache and double vision, so off to the hospital we went.
Meningococcal meningitis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is spread by saliva and throat secretions. People in close contact are at risk because coughing and sneezing spreads the disease. The incubation period is only 2-4 days, and death can occur within 24 hours. Even with treatment 5-10% of the patients die. Meningitis in children is more common than in adults, with severe consequences.
After we got to the hospital, I explained that my son had been exposed to meningococcal meningitis by the little girl who sat in front of him in school. The doctor was not as concerned as I, because meningitis in children in the United States is not common; he was sure I had misheard her diagnosis. I produced the warning paper the school had sent out and then he paid closer attention. He did the preliminary testing and started to dismiss my son. I insisted that we begin treatment as my son had told me he and the little girl had shared pencils, and they both put them in their mouths and chewed on them.
The next morning the doctor confirmed my son had meningococcal meningitis and that my insistence had probably saved his life. My son recovered quickly as he had the appropriate treatment in a timely manner. The little girl and two other classmates died. Meningitis in children can now be prevented by getting vaccinated, an option not available almost 40 years ago. Please get your child vaccinated, it might just save their life.
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