Columbus -- State health officials are reminding parents of a new state law requiring middle and high school students to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease.
Lawmakers passed SB 121 and Gov. John Kasich signed it into law last year, with provisions slated to take effect during the coming school year. Students entering the seventh or 12th grades now are required to have the immunizations, unless their parents or doctor opt them out.
"The greater the percentage of people immunized, the less likely disease will occur," said state Medical Director Mary DiOrio, who noted that about three-fourths of Ohio students have already received meningococcal vaccinations. "Ohio has come a long way to increasing immunization rates among children since the 1990s/."
DiOrio joined other health officials Aug. 3 for a press conference at the Statehouse to discuss the law changes and unveil a new electronic application that spotlights the importance of immunizations (additional information is available online at www.ohioaap.org).
Meningococcal disease causes infections to the bloodstream and the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms initially are similar to the flu but can have deadly results if not treated quickly.
"/ Within 24 hours, you can die from this disease," said Dennis Cunningham, an infectious disease specialist at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "I'm not saying that to scare people or shock people. I just want people to know this is a serious disease. Not everyone I've treated has survived. And we have a vaccine that's pretty good, it's pretty efficacious, and it's something we should all be doing."
Samantha Bennett contracted meningitis when she was nine months old. She survived -- she's now a professional artist and a mom -- but the disease left her with scars on her arms, face and legs, and she lost half of her right foot.
"I went from being a very healthy little child to barely surviving in 24 hours," she said. "/ People think that I was in a car accident. People think that I've been in a fire. But the truth is, I had bacterial meningitis/ It's a very deadly disease, and I'm lucky to be here."
Bennett has already had her young children vaccinated against the disease.
"What happened to me does not have to happen to anyone else anymore," she said.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.