PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new educational campaign that was launched on Monday is hoping to encourage more teenagers to get vaccinated with a booster to prevent meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than half of teenagers have not received the recommended dose of the vaccine that prevents meningitis.
This second vaccine is especially important for teenagers that are heading to college, where there is an increased risk of contracting the contagious disease.
“My parents were told in that first 24 hours I may have less than 20% of chance for survival and they have to amputate my right leg,” Francesca Testa said.
Testa survived bacterial meningitis she contracted in her senior year of high school.
“I was initially misdiagnosed with the flu by my local pediatrician and within 12 hours my symptoms rapidly progressed,” she said. “I was unresponsive. I was brought to the intensive care unit where I stayed in a coma on a respirator for about two weeks.”
Testa is joining pediatrician Dr. Todd Wolynn and the National Meningitis Association for a campaign called the “16 vaccine” which reminds families that teens need a second booster vaccine.
“So the vaccine works great at 11 to 12 years of age, but the problem is we see that immunity can wane down at so it starts to kind of go down,” Wolynn said.
Less than 50% of teens are getting the second booster, which increases their risk, especially in close contact with others, like on a college campus.
“So at the time, I actually had my vaccine scheduled for my pre-college physical. I was 17 years old and getting ready to go into the summer before my first year at college,” Testa said.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain membrane and spinal cord. A definitive diagnosis is made with spinal fluid.
Even though there was a delay, Testa was eventually treated with antibiotics.
“I did survive. I still deal with long-term complications like hearing and vision loss, cognitive delays and impairment, as well as severe headaches,” she said.
Bacterial meningitis, which Testa had, is rare but can be fatal. Doctors say it’s critical that students get the booster vaccine before going to college because it is spread through saliva, coughing and sharing drinks.
The less serious viral meningitis is spread the same way but it usually clears up on its own.