WEDNESDAY, June 27, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Wednesday that all teens between the ages of 11 and 18 be routinely vaccinated against potentially deadly bacterial meningitis.
The recommendation, issued by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, broadens the current guidelines for vaccinating adolescents and will be adopted by the agency, experts said.
"The prior recommendation had focused on different age groups," said Dr. Carol Baker, chairwoman of the committee's Meningococcal Working Group. "The new recommendation will be routine vaccination of all adolescents 11 through 18 years of age."
The earlier recommendation, which targeted only 15- to 18-year-olds, was made because vaccine supplies were limited, added Baker, who is president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
"The vaccine supply to be able to immunize this many adolescents is now sufficient," she said. "Now we will prevent many more infections."
Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but sometimes fatal bacterial infection that often strikes pre-adolescents, adolescents and young adults. The disease strikes quickly and has devastating complications, including hearing loss, brain damage, limb amputations and, in some cases, death.
"Vaccination is going to do a whole lot to reduce the incidence of this disease," said Lynn Bozof, executive director of the National Meningitis Association.
"The CDC's action will raise awareness ... among parents and adolescents that this disease is out there and it is potentially vaccine-preventable," she added.
The committee recommended that teens be routinely vaccinated with Menactra, the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) made by Sanofi Pasteur.
The vaccine has been proven to protect against up to 83 percent of meningococcal cases among adolescents, according to the National Meningitis Association.
"The CDC recognizes that all adolescents are at risk for this disease, and they are doing what is in the best interest of the public," Bozof, who lost a son to meningitis, said. "If this recommendation had been in place nine years ago, my son would be alive."
Meningitis is spread through the exchange of respiratory droplets, which can come from sharing a drink or utensils, kissing, or coughing and sneezing. Adolescents and young adults are at increased risk for the disease, which can be contracted in crowded living situations, such as dormitories, boarding schools and sleep-away camps.
Bozof believes all adolescents should be vaccinated. "You have a vaccine that can prevent the killer disease," she said. "To me it's a no-brainer -- you just go and protect your children."
For more information on meningitis, visit the National Meningitis Association.