Last updated: July 17. 2013 5:55PM -

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Back-to-school season is a busy time for teens and their parents, but it’s also prime time for spreading infections.

One disease in particular – meningococcal meningitis – may be spread through activities common in schools, like sharing water bottles and drinking glasses.

A new West Virginia state law currently in effect mandates that all students entering 7th grade receive a dose of the meningococcal vaccine & those entering 12th grade receive at least one dose of the meningococcal vaccine after their 16th birthday.

Meningitis is also potentially deadly. Statistics show that 10 percent of people who contract the disease die — sometimes within 24 hours.

Meningitis may be prevented through vaccination, and public health officials recommend both an initial shot at ages 11-12 with a booster dose by age 18.

Unfortunately, in West Virginia, more than 55 percent of teens have not been vaccinated, according to health officials.

For this reason, the West Virginia Association of School Nurses & Charleston public health leaders are calling on parents to have their preteens and teens vaccinated against meningitis before returning to school. This educational initiative is part of the National Association of School Nurses’ Voices of Meningitis campaign to raise awareness about meningitis and help boost vaccination rates.

The West Virginia Association of School Nurses (WVASN) has joined more than 30 state and national health organizations across the country in support of the Voices of Meningitis “Boost Our Rates!” initiative, to help educate parents about the importance of meningococcal vaccination for their preteens and teens.

Since January 2012, 839 adolescents have been vaccinated against meningococcal infection at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. WVASN is bringing “Boost Our Rates!” to Charleston, WV this back-to-school season to further increase the meningitis vaccination rates in West Virginia.

Along with school nurses, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, and people who have been affected by meningitis are all calling on parents to get their preteen and teen children vaccinated. Public health officials recommend vaccination for preteens and teens starting at age 11 or 12 years, with a booster dose by 18 years of age to help protect them during the years when they are at greatest risk of infection.

A new West Virginia state law currently in effect mandates that all students entering seventh grade receive a dose of the meningococcal vaccine and those entering twelfth grade receive at least one dose of the meningococcal vaccine after their sixteenth birthday.

“Universal vaccination is a critical part of quality healthcare and we strongly believe that the new law will help further protect West Virginia’s school children from vaccine preventable diseases such as bacterial meningitis,” stated Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

“I learned about meningitis the worst way possible,” said Georgia State Representative Amy Carter, who is helping spread the word about meningitis prevention around the country. “My brother Bubba died from meningitis while he was in high school, and I miss him every day. By sharing my story, I hope that parents will help protect their children from this devastating disease by getting them vaccinated.”

Vaccination is the most effective way to help prevent meningococcal meningitis, which may be rare but can kill an otherwise healthy child in just a single day. Back-to-school time is an especially important opportunity for parents to get their children vaccinated, as many activities that go hand-in-hand with preteens and teens returning to school, such as sharing drinking glasses and water bottles, kissing and being in close proximity for long periods of time, can increase their risk for contracting meningitis.

“School nurses are on the front lines every day when it comes to protecting our students’ health, so we see how devastating infectious diseases can be, especially meningitis,” said Melanie Kearns, school nurse at Putnam County Schools. “Parents can take an easy step toward helping protect their preteens and teens now by getting them vaccinated against meningitis.”

Voices of Meningitis “Boost Our Rates!” offers educational materials for parents and healthcare providers and features a comprehensive website, www.VoicesOfMeningitis.org, and a Facebook page where visitors can join the conversation and hear compelling stories of families who have been personally affected by meningitis.

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