Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dara Torres Swims 24 Laps for Meningitis

Recently,  at an event hosted by Voices of Meningitis, young swimmers dove into the Verdugo Pool in Burbank with twelve-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres to swim 24 laps, signifying that meningococcal meningitis can claim a life in just 24 hours. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dara Torres, as well as Robbin Thibodeaux and Carolina Sandoval before the event.  Torres, a mother of three, said, “I've seen what this disease can potentially do to kids.” During the interview, she talked about her involvement with Voices of Meningitis and about the importance of educating parents/guardians about meningococcal meningitis.  

Robbin Thibodeaux  lost her 19-year-old son Thomas James Kent to the disease on Christmas in 2005.
She said, of Thomas, “He fueled my purpose to educate and bring awareness,” she said. “It's quite devastating for a family to lose somebody as bright as Thomas was.”

During the interview, Dara explained about her involvement with Voices of Meningitiswhat meningitis is, the importance of children getting vaccinated against this disease, and what parents can do to help prevent the spread of meningococcal meningitis.

Carolina Sandoval, a pediatric nurse practitioner, said young people between the ages of 16 and 21 are the most at risk for the disease. “They're close together, sharing utensils, sharing kisses, bottled water,” she said. “How can you tell a teenager, 'Don't hug your friend?'“


Meningococcal meningitis  is a bacterial infection that can potentially take the life of an otherwise healthy young person within 24 hours of the first symptoms appearing.  It is difficult to recognize, especially at its onset because its symptoms are similar to those of common viral illnesses like the flu.   Those who survive meningococcal meningitis can suffer permanent consequences such as amputation of limbs, fingers, or toes, severe scarring, brain damage, hearing loss, kidney damage and psychological problems.   

Although anyone can contract meningitis, teens and young adults are at the highest risk, even people who are usually healthy like athletes and college students.   Meningitis is contagious and can be spread by common activities such as kissing, sharing drinking glasses and eating utensils, smoking (and even exposure to cigarette smoke), and living in close quarters like dorms and camps.  

It is very important to know what symptoms to look for.  Someone with meningococcal disease may have some or all of the following symptoms, but not at the same time:

  • Severe headaches
  • High fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cold or painful hands and feet
  • Light sensitivity
  • Confusion
  • Rash
  • Seizures
  • Painfully stiff neck
If your child exhibits these symptoms, and especially if you know that he or she has been exposed to meningitis, contact a doctor immediately.  When it comes to treating this deadly disease, speed is key.  Meningitis can take the life of an otherwise healthy individual within 24 hours.

Vaccinating your child is the best way to help protect preteens from meningococcal meningitis.  Meningitis vaccines are available for those who wish to reduce their risk of contracting this potentially deadly disease. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 2 doses of meningococcal conjugate for adolescents 11 through 18 years of age. First dose at 11 or 12 years of age, with a booster dose at age 16.  If the first dose is given between 13 and 15 years of age, the booster should be given between 16 and 18

It is also extremely important to encourage healthy habits that can help prevent contracting and the spread of meningitis:  Avoid sharing glasses, eating utensils, and toothbrushes, or generally anything that someone has put in or near their mouth.  Studies have also shown that smoking or being around secondhand smoke can increase a teen's chances of contracting meningitis, so staying away from smoke and smoking is another healthy habit that can help prevent meningitis.

For more information about Meningococcal Meningitis, you can go to Voices of Meningitis and talk to your healthcare professional.