Posted by Fiona Cole on May 12, 2011
The first vaccine to protect against meningitis in babies and toddlers has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The approval is for the bacterial meningitis vaccine, Menactra, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., to be used in babies and toddlers as young as 9 months old.
Menactra has been used for years to vaccinate against Neisseria meningitis, one of the most prevalent forms of bacterial meningitis, in individuals between the ages of 2 and 55 years old. This is the first time that it will be used by doctors on children below the age of 2.
Rates of meningitis are relatively low in the United States; however, once it develops, meningitis is a dangerous disease and highly contagious. Meningitis causes the membranes that surround the spinal cord and the brain to become inflamed. It usually occurs as a result of an upper respiratory infection when bacteria enters the bloodstream. Babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to bacterial meningitis and it can develop rapidly, in a matter of a few hours or just a few days.
The typical symptoms of meningitis are headache, stiff neck and a high fever. These symptoms can be hard to detect. In very young children, sometimes the symptoms are absent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that children who have contracted meningitis may seem inactive or slow, express irritation, suffer from vomiting or fail to eat properly. Seizures can also occur.
The FDA states that, even with proper medical attention, up to 15 percent of individuals die from bacterial meningitis. In addition, one in four will suffer from related complications, such as hearing loss or brain damage.
Karen Midthun, director of the 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.”