COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will meet Wednesday to discuss whether to recommend a new meningitis vaccine to the general public.
There are five strains of meningitis: A, B, C, Y and W. Currently there is a mandatory vaccine that covers four of these strains.
Health professionals refer to the fifth strain as meningitis b. It is caused by the bacteria neisseria meningitidis.
According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), it is the most common cause of meningitis in adolescents in the United States.
Dr. Aneesh Tosh works as an Associate Professor of Clinical Child Health at MU Hospitals and advocates for this vaccine, considering it could potentially affect the children and young people he works with.
"Even though meningitis is relatively rare from a national standpoint, my adolescent patient population is at high risk," he said. "Meningitis is spread through respiratory secretion so coughing, sneezing, holding hands, kissing; those behaviors a lot of adolescents do are ways to transmit the infection."
There have been several outbreaks of the disease in the past few years, most recently at the University of Oregon. Seven students there were sickened by the disease and one case was fatal.
According to data from the Missouri Department of Health, there have only been about 100 recorded deaths of meningitis in Missouri since 1990, but a recent study by the CDC identifies it as the most distinctive cause of death in this state.
Although it is a bit more aggressive than the other strains, meningitis b is not much more severe. But that doesn't mean it's not deadly. Even with appropriate treatment, the death rate for meningitis is 10 to 15 percent.
According to the NFID, a vaccine for meningitis b was difficult to develop because the outer coating of the b bacteria behaved differently than the other strains.
It was developed much later than the other strains and the FDA recently approved it as a new vaccination.
The meningitis b vaccination is currently only approved for specific at risk populations.
Dr. Tosh said he believes the CDC should recommend it for the public.
"Since our patient population is at risk and the new vaccine that protects against type b covers against one third of the cases that are not being covered by the current vaccine, I do think it would probably be a wise recommendation," he said.