Bacterial meningitis is a very serious and spreadable disease, especially amongst babies and toddlers. In an effort to combat this ailment The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first vaccine to prevent meningitis in children under one year old. Menactra, a drug used for a long time in children above the age of two, has now been approved for younger humans as old as nine months.

Meningitis occurs when bacteria from an upper respiratory infection enter the bloodstream, and it is highly contagious. Even though rates of meningitis are low in the United States, infants and toddler are particularly vulnerable.

Menactra was originally approved on Jan. 14, 2005, for use in individuals ages 11 years through 55 years and was approved in October 2007 for children as young as two years.

Meningitis can develop in just a few hours or over a few days. Even with proper care, the FDA says up to 15% of people who develop meningitis die from the infection. Almost 25% of people who contract meningitis suffer complications such as brain damage or hearing loss.

The classic symptoms of meningitis, high fever, headache and stiff neck, may be difficult to detect and can be absent in really small children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants with meningitis may appear slow or inactive, have vomiting, be irritable, or be feeding poorly. They may also suffer seizures.

Karen Midthun, M.D., director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said:

“The highest rate of meningococcal disease occurs in children under one year of age. With today’s approval, Menactra can now be used in children as young as 9 months of age to help prevent this potentially life-threatening disease.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created guidelines for parents to know what vaccines they and their children should receive. The following are the CDC meningococcal vaccination recommendations:

  • Children 11 through 18 years of age should get one dose of the meningococcal vaccine.
  • The best time to immunize a child with the meningococcal vaccine is when they are 11 or 12 years of age.
  • Children who didn’t receive the meningococcal vaccine at 11 or 12 years of age should get it as soon as possible.
  • College freshmen living in dormitories should get the meningococcal vaccination.

The CDC also recommends the meningococcal vaccination for children 2 through 10 years of age who have a damaged spleen or have had their spleen removed, and those with an immune system disorder .

The CDC also recommends that children with the following conditions should not get the meningococcal vaccine or should wait: those who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose; those with a life-threatening allergy to any vaccine ingredient; those who are moderately or severely ill when the meningococcal immunization is scheduled; those who have had Guillain-Barré syndrome which is a disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system.

Sources: The U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration and Sanofi Pasteur

Written by Sy Kraft