Avoiding a potential teenage tragedy (Pedcast)

Most cases of meningitis can be avoided with vaccines.  Listen and learn why Dr. Smolen thinks your child should get a vaccine that can protect children from a horrible infection from a germ called “meningococcus”.  Get ready for your free pediatric education to continue!


-Welcome to another edition of DocSmo.com., the blog designed to give parents information they can use as their children progress from diapers to the diploma.

-I am your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, founder of the DocSmo blog

-Thanks you for joining me today.

– Today, we are going to discuss a disease that is extremely frightening, both for families and doctors.

-Fortunately it is rare and usually preventable.

-I thought it would be good for my listeners to learn about a disease process called sepsis: specifically sepsis from a germ called meningococcus.

-So let’s talk kids with today’s discussion of how the germ meningococcus, also known as Neisseria Meningitis, can devastate a child in a matter of hours AND learn what we can do to prevent that from happening.

– We are going to start today’s discussion with a cruise down what I call science lane. … that place where we learn a little biology and pathophysiology.

– So what is meningococcus?  Well I’m glad you asked.  Meningococcus is one of a group of bacteria known as cocci-meaning round, which has a particular affinity to get into a child’s blood circulation and then ultimately into the coverings of a child’s brain called the meninges…hence the name meningo…coccus.

-In most children’s noses, “Meningo””coccus”  is just an ordinary germ among many, but under just the right conditions, it becomes a “pathogen” or a germ that can cause devastating disease.  If this germ is able to enter the blood, it can provoke a sudden drop in blood pressure.  If it reaches the brain, a horrible condition called meningitis.



-And here is the way it usually happens.  A perfectly normal child or teen touches this germ and unknowingly inoculates it into their nose by touch.  Within a short period of time, hours to days, the germ grows to sufficient numbers in the child’s nose, that some of the bacteria start to get into the child’s blood.

-Bacteria in the blood…. A condition called sepsis or septic shock.  Oh my gosh, this child now in serious trouble.  All their defenses are down, pathogenic bacteria have made it into their blood, and this child’s body is about to come unraveled.

-At this point, one of two things are likely to happen.  Either the meningococcal germ provokes a sudden drop in blood pressure by causing leaky circulation which doctors call “shock”or circulatory collapse, or the child evades the shock, and instead develops a brain infection called meningitis.

-Either of these things can and may cause death in a matter of hours.

-Remember, this was a perfectly healthy child just a few hours ago and is now they are clinging to life.


–Fortunately, these events are fairly rare but, as you can see, are devastating to those who experience it.

–By studying a large number of cases of disease caused by meningococcus, experts have determined that teens and young adults are particularly susceptible to an overwhelming infection with meningococcus. In particular, children who first start living in a close, secretion proximity to many other people such as in a dormitory or in a military barracks.

– As I said earlier, the chance of this happening to your child is very low, but when you consider all the children in the US, there are actually about 1000 children who experience this every year. 1 child is too many, much less a 1000.


– The good news is that we are not helpless in our defense against this nasty germ. A vaccine that is currently licensed by the FDA and recommended by the CDC can go a long way at protecting your child. The vaccine is usually given to children 11 years age with a booster just before college.  Soon you will hear about a vaccine that can protect children down to the age of 6 weeks from this form of meningitis.  Great news for little people. So here are things I want you to remember:


-I think it is important for you to follow the recommendations and get your child vaccinated against this terrible disease at the appropriate age. Remember that DocSmo pearl:  Prevention trumps treatment!  Vaccines prevent disease.


-Be aware that the combination of fever, neck pain with stiffness, and a rash should be considered meningitis due to meningococcus until proven otherwise.  Get medical help immediately!  Minutes are important in this situation.


-In fact, fever along with any rash should always be evaluated by a medical professional, especially in children.


-The rate of illness due to Meningococcus is much higher in certain parts of the world than the US.  Get vaccinated before you travel to these places even if you are not a child.


-If your child has been exposed to bacterial meningitis, let your child’s doctor know immediately.  Treatment with antibiotics may be warranted to prevent your child from getting sick.


Thanks you for joining me today. Your tuition free pediatric education continues.

We recently topped the century mark with posts, so take the time to check out other episodes of DocSmo.

Let me remind my listeners that these pedcasts are for informational purposes only.  For specific medical advice for your child, talk to the wonderful person you call their doctor.

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This is your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, recording in studio 1E from Charlotte, NC, hoping that your child’s next infection, goes in the right direction.


Until next time

Smo Notes: