When Voices of Meningitis asked if I would like to speak with Dara Torres about meningococcal meningitis, after I figured out how to PRONOUNCE that, I knew I wanted to get involved. If you remember my crazy ear thing, it was from a rare form of strep-A. However, meningococcal meningitis is much more common and affects teens – something my son is about to become.
I was lucky enough speak on the phone with Dara as well as Beth Mattey, President-Elect, National Association of School Nurses (NASN), about the symptoms, effects and how to prevent the disease.
Can you give us a layman’s overview of meningococcal meningitis?
BETH: Is a bacterial disease that grows in the nose and throat usually around ages 13 to 21. The lifestyle of this age group contributes to the growth, by lifestyle behaviors including sharing of utensils, kissing and sports.
DARA: It is a very common disease. There are about 800 to 1200 cases per year. The symptoms are very common and but the problem is, it can happen very fast and teens can pass away within 24 hours. I had no idea how dangerous it was and the amazing thing is there’s a vaccine that people could easily get to prevent it.
Dara, why is this issue important to you?
DARA: It’s more common with sports kids. Because you can get it through contact and sports teams are sharing equipment and dorms. I remember in college, we had quarantines because of it but I never really knew what it was all about.
What are the symptoms of meningococcal meningitis?
BETH: The disease symptoms include high fever, nausea, rash.
DARA: Parents sometimes miss the symptoms. We’re trying to get the message out that they can be proactive about it.
How can you prevent meningococcal meningitis?
DARA: There is a vaccine. I spoke to my daughters pediatrician about it. She is still a bit too young to have the vaccine yet but her pediatrician reiterated what I had learned through working with this organization.
BETH: A lot of times teens don’t teens don’t get well-checks anymore, so their sports physical is a perfect time to ask about the vaccine. Some states require it, some don’t – so it is better to be proactive.
What are the effects of the vaccine?
BETH: It is generally very well tolerated. There may be some soreness at the site.
When should teens get the meningococcal meningitis vaccine?
BETH: Their first shot would be at age 11 and then it’s very important to get the booster at age 16.
What are possible complications from meningococcal meningitis?
DARA: Swelling, blood infection, organ failure, deafness, amputation and possible death. This is why we really want to let people know about this disease.
OK. Wow. On a lighter note, what have you been doing in your post-Olympics career, Dara?
DARA: I have been doing a lot of TV sports reporting, and I’m enjoying doing motivational talks and my books. But mostly, it’s about just being there for my family.
Is your daughter following in your footsteps?
DARA: We’ll see, but my daughter plays lacrosse, and yes, she swims, too.
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