Proactive Planning – Focusing on Meningitis Vaccines

 Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

Unfortunately, the world knows more about Emily Stillman in death than in life.

Emily Nicole Stillman was born September 11, 1993 to Michael and Alicia Stillman of Michigan.  Her siblings are Karly and Zachary.  Emily graduated from Adat Shalom Nursery School, Pine Lake Elementary School, West Hills Middle School, and Andover High School. She spent her summers at Camp Seagull in Charlevoix, Michigan and at Stagedoor Manor in New York and was reported to be a vibrant, larger-than-life personality. Throughout her life, she maintained friendships from each of her experiences.

Family time was important to Emily. Being with her parents and Karly and Zachary was always a priority.  She was attending Kalamazoo College when on February 2, 2013, at the age of 19, she passed away from Meningococcal Disease – Serogroup B.  Yes, she had received both recommended doses of the Conjugate vaccine at the appropriate times.  Yet the vaccine to prevent Serogroup B was not yet available in the United States.   Her death is a loss of epic proportions that her parents, siblings, grandparents and friends still feel.

So what is Meningococcal?

Meningococcal can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria Meningitidis, also known as meningococcus (muh-ning-hog-kok-us). Meningococcal meningitis, which most people refer to as meningitis, is an inflammation of the meninges when the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord become infected with this bacterium.  It’s spread through the droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers.  10% to 20% of the population may carry this type of bacteria in the back of their nose and throat at any given time with no signs or symptoms of disease, according to some studies.

Who’s vulnerable?  All of us.  People of all ages.  People of any age can get meningitis.

Yet its spread more easily among people living in close quarters, such as young adults living in yeshiva and seminary dormitories and others.

The symptoms of meningococcal disease include

  • not feeling well
  • fever, nausea/vomiting
  • a severe and persistent headache
  • a stiff neck, sensitivity to bright light, drowsiness
  • joint pain
  • confusion or other mental changes
  • red/purple skin rash in which color does not fade when pressure is applied to skin

In addition, young children may refuse food, appear abnormally drowsy or agitated, and react with unusual body movements or sounds when handled. Symptoms can appear quickly or over several days.  It’s urgent that you consult with your pediatrician immediately.   Because the symptoms can be confused with the flu, the diagnosis may be delayed.  No, no, no.  Don’t delay.  I underscore again the importance of seeking medical help immediately.  Early detection often can dictate the prognosis. Any rash, fever and headache must be evaluated as soon as possible.

Meningococcal meningitis can be fatal or cause great harm. Death can occur in as little as a few hours.  In Emily’s case, it was 36 hours from the time she reported headaches until she died.   In those who survive, there may be permanent disabilities such as severe scarring or amputation of toes, fingers, or limbs.  As many as one out of five people who contract the infection have serious complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 15% of those who survive are left with disabilities that include deafness, brain damage, and neurological problems.

Prevention plays a major role here – it’s called vaccinating

Readers know I am unabashedly “pro vaccines”.   Vaccines save lives.  Period.

Routine immunization goes a long way to preventing meningitis.  Among infants, this includes the Hib, measles, mumps, polio and pneumococcal vaccines.  Kids should also get the meningococcal conjugate vaccine when they’re 11 or 12 years old, with a booster the age of 16.  Kids older than 11 who haven’t been vaccinated should also be immunized particularly if they’re going to camp, yeshiva, seminary or other places where they’ll be living in close quarters with others.  And now available is the MenB vaccine which is given between the ages of 16-18.

In addition to vaccinating, avoid germs.  Wash hands.  Frequently.  With soap.  And water.  And dry well.  Don’t share food eating utensils and please, please – Don’t share water bottles or drinking glasses.  Not sharing will help to not spread germs.

Again, if G-d forbid, you believe that your child has meningitis, call your doctor pronto.

Meningococcal Disease is a vaccine preventable disease –but you do need to get both vaccines in order to prevent it.
– Alicia Stillman

A foundation was formed for Emily Stillman.   Please visit Forever Emily to learn more about her life’s story from her family and the research on prevention with 2 life saving vaccinations.

May Emily’s memory be for a blessing

As always, daven

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