Meningococcal Disease – What Parents Should Know

Please take a few minutes to check out these must-know facts and guidelines on Meningococcal disease, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is Meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, also called meningococcus. Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., living in close quarters, kissing, sharing drinks, eating off same fork). People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.

Who can get Meningococcal disease?
Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but it is more common in infants and children. Other persons at increased risk include household contacts of a person known to have had this disease, immunocompromised people, and people traveling to parts of the world where meningococcal disease is prevalent.

What are the symptoms?
A common outcome of meningococcal infection is meningitis. When caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria it is known as meningococcal meningitis. When someone has meningococcal meningitis, the protective membranes covering their brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges, become infected and swell. The symptoms include:

• Fever
• Headache
• Stiff Neck
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Increased sensitivity to light
• Altered mental status (confusion)

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. In newborns and infants, symptoms (fever, headache, neck stiffness) may be difficult to notice. The infant may appear to be irritable, inactive, vomiting or feeding poorly.

Another common outcome of meningococcal infection is bloodstream infection, either septicemia or bacteremia, and the more serious of the two is septicemia. When someone has meningococcal septicemia, the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply, damaging the walls of the blood vessels and causing bleeding into the skin and organs. Symptoms may include:

• Fatigue
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Rapid breathing
• Cold chills
• Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen
• Red dots which can progress to dark purple rash
Please note: Meningitis and septicemia can sometimes occur together.

If you think you or your child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.

How is Meningococcal disease treated?
Meningococcal disease can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. If meningococcal disease is suspected, antibiotics are given right away. In some cases the infection has caused too much damage to the body for antibiotics to prevent death or serious long-term problems. Depending on how serious the infection is, other treatments may also be necessary. These can include such things as breathing support, medications to treat low blood pressure, and wound care for parts of the body with damaged skin.

How can Meningococcal disease be prevented?
Vaccination is key. Keeping up to date with the recommended immunizations is the best defense against the disease. Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all children at age 11-12 years, with a booster at 16 years. Children with certain underlying medical issues, or those who are traveling to certain areas, may need to be vaccinated earlier.

Available vaccines cover most, but not all strains. Even if you have been vaccinated, there is still a chance you can develop a meningococcal infection. People should know the symptoms of meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicemia since early recognition and quick medical attention are critical. In addition, maintaining healthy habits, such as getting plenty of rest and not coming into close contact with people who are sick, can help.

For more information, please visit the CDC website at

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Gardening Can Keep You and Your Family Healthy!

By Joanne DeMarchi, MA, RD, IBCLC, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Backyards can be transformed into fruit and vegetable gardens in a few simple steps.  This is a great family activity that has long lasting results.  The food you grow in your backyard is nearly free, fresher than anything you buy at the farmers market and can be perpetual.  Since April is National Gardening month it is the perfect time to start planting!

First, find a place in your yard that gets good sun.  If there is only a small part of the yard that does, buy pots and plant into containers.  Next, decide what you want to plant.  Perhaps choose 2-3 vegetables and 1-2 fruits. One tradition to start is every Mother’s Day plant a fruit tree or other edible plant.  Over time it is wonderful to watch them grow and go into the yard when you need fresh berries, salad greens, a lemon or to pick a fresh orange!

Next, soil counts.  The healthier your soil the healthier and larger your produce yield.  Many gardens in southern California need nutrients added to their soil.  Best advice is to go to your local garden center and ask for expert help.  Another great way to improve your soil and the environment is starting a compost pile.  Compost adds healthy organic nutrients to your garden soil. To start a compost pile, watch this short video from the Sierra Club

Eating more fruits and vegetables (from your garden or in general) is one of the recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research.  In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals demonstrate anti-cancer effects.  Yet evidence suggests it is the synergy of compounds working together in the overall diet that offers the strongest cancer protection.  Therefore, choosing fruits and vegetables rather than supplements is recommended.  These bright, healthy, colorful foods contain phytochemicals and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene and folic acid.  

When planning meals, aim to fill at least 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans.  When fruit and vegetable intake goes up and replaces higher calorie, less nutrient dense foods, body weight improves.  Increased body fat increases the risk of seven cancers; esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, endometrium, kidney, postmenopausal breast and gallbladder.

If starting a backyard garden is too big of a plan, consider growing an herb garden.  No meal is complete without fresh herbs.  Most garden centers have herbs in small pots and finding a sunny window is all that is required.  Growing basil for your tomato and mozzarella salad or rosemary to sprinkle on fish and roasted sweet potatoes turns ordinary into extraordinary and you get all the credit!

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Tips For Teens to Avoid Distracted Driving

If teens didn’t need another reason not to text and drive, police across the region will crack down on distracted drivers in April as part of national Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The California Highway Patrol, state Office of Traffic Safety and more than 200 local law enforcement agencies statewide will be out in force, ticketing drivers caught texting, holding cell phones to their heads, or driving while appearing distracted in any way.

The federal government reports that about 3,300 people died nationwide in car accidents involving a distracted driver in 2011. Further, 18 percent of all injury car accidents in 2010 were attributed to distracted driving.

Law enforcement officials say that young and inexperienced drivers are more likely to have an accident because of distracted driving. For a driver of any age, using a cell phone behind the wheel reduces brain functions needed for safe driving by up to 37 percent.

If that weren’t sobering enough, teens in California have a financial incentive to put down their phones while driving: The fine for a first-time texting or hand-held cell phone violation is $159, and subsequent tickets cost $279.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, about 57,000 people statewide received tickets for distracted driving in April 2012 alone. Almost 450,000 people received tickets statewide in 2012.

Here are some tips from the Office of Transportation Safety to help motorists of all ages prevent distracted driving:

• Turn off your phone and/or put it out of reach while driving

• Include in your outgoing message that you can’t answer while you are driving

• Don’t call or text anyone at a time when you think they may be driving

• Adjust controls and set your song playlist before you set out on the road

• Stay alert and keep your mind on the task of driving – often after a long day at school or a not-so-restful night’s sleep, people’s minds can wander when behind the wheel. If you find yourself daydreaming, clear your head and focus on the road.

• No eating or drinking while driving

• No grooming

• No reading

• No watching videos

• If something falls to the floor, pull over before trying to reach it.

• Try not to get too involved with passengers

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Tips to Manage Spring Allergies…Ah-choo!

Spring is officially here! And, although it may not seem like it with rain in the forecast, the signs of springtime are starting to peek through. Tree and grass pollen are starting to make the rounds. So if your child seems sniffly and sneezy lately, springtime allergies might be to blame. Check out the symptoms and tips below to help your child cope with allergies this season.

• sneezing
• nasal congestion
• itchy nose and/or throat
• coughing
• clear, runny nose
• itchy, watery and/or red eyes

What to Do
Although there is no real cure for seasonal allergies, it is possible to relieve symptoms. You can:

• Eliminate or reduce exposure to allergens – mold; tree, grass and weed pollen.
• Stay indoors on dry, windy days or when pollen counts are high (check the Internet or TV for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels) .
•  Have your child wash his hands and change clothing after playing outside.
• Clean floors often with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.
• Delegate lawn mowing and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.

If reducing exposure is ineffective, medicines (such as decongestants and antihistamines) can help ease allergy symptoms. If symptoms cannot be managed with medicines, the doctor may recommend taking your child to an allergist or immunologist who can recommend the appropriate treatment.

For more info on this timely topic, click here:

For pediatric Allergy and Immunology services at CHOC Children’s, click here:

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