Dr. Deepa Mukundan is expecting to see an uptick in requests for the meningococcal vaccine because of a new law that requires the shot for schoolchildren.
The requirement won’t go into effect until the 2016-17 school year, but The University of Toledo Medical Center pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases recommends not waiting until then because meningitis is a deadly disease that parents need to take seriously.“By the time the patient is diagnosed, it is usually too late,” Mukundan said. “If the patient does recover, the lasting effects are devastating. The patient could have brain damage, hearing loss or limb amputation.”
Gov. John Kasich signed the bill into law in July. Parents who object to vaccines can opt out.
“I don’t recommend opting out because early diagnosis is nearly impossible with this disease,” Mukundan said. “While bacterial meningitis, the most serious form, can affect young children with compromised immune systems, it mostly festers in college dormitories as students share drinks, food and affection. You can only imagine the angst of a family who loses a kid who just moved away to college.”
Mukundan said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccination to all students at ages 11 or 12, with a booster at 16. The Ohio Department of Health is determining guidelines in response to the new law.
Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite sponsored the bill after losing his niece to bacterial meningitis, and Mukundan worked with him to advocate for the bill’s passage.
“Meningitis can quickly strike young victims and result in multiple amputations or death within hours,” Hite said. “Sadly, my family learned that the best treatment for meningitis is often prevention.”
Mukundan explained bacterial meningitis leads to the inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, a blood infection, or both. It’s difficult to diagnose and sometimes patients don’t even seek treatment because the symptoms of headache, fever and nausea mimic the common cold and flu.
About 69 percent of young people in Ohio are vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Mukundan said this percentage needs to be higher.
“The benefits of the vaccine will outweigh the risks,” she said. “Only 2 to 3 percent of the population has an extreme passion about not getting a vaccine, while the rest understand it is a life-saving preventative measure once they are properly educated.”