BACK TO SCHOOL: Minn. mom urges meningitis vaccinations - KMSP-TV

BACK TO SCHOOL: Minn. mom urges meningitis vaccinations

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A Minnesota mother who lost her daughter to a fast-acting disease that is particularly dangerous for students is teaming up with the Minnesota Department of Health to encourage meningitis vaccination.

When it comes to administering the meningitis vaccine, Minnesota lags behind the rest of the nation. The most recent statistics from 2011 show the national average for vaccinating children between the ages of 13 and 17 was 70 percent. In Minnesota, only 63 percent of youths in that age range were vaccinated. That's a number Barb Dunn hopes to see rise.

In the back of her South St. Paul home, Dunn finds inspiration and peace in Jenna's garden.

"Every time I come out and look at it, I think about Jennifer," Dunn told FOX 9 News. "It's a reminder of her and a reminder that I don't want any other parent to suffer what I have suffered."

At 26, Jenna Dunn had a world to explore after graduating from the University of St. Thomas. She returned to the school for graduate studies to follow her dream of becoming an English literature professor, but a call made in June of 1999 changed everything.

"She said, 'I have a terrible headache, I've been vomiting and I don't know what's wrong, but I've never been this sick,'" Dunn recalled.

Dunn took her daughter to the hospital, where she died 17 hours later from meningitis.

"She's in my heart and in my soul, my mind, every minute of every day," Dunn said.

That's why Dunn spent years fighting to raise awareness of the deadly disease. Just last week, Gov. Mark Dayton declared August to be Meningitis Awareness Month, and the state's Department of Health is teaming up with Dunn to get the word out.

"My focus is on raising awareness, for students and parents to know the symptoms of meningitis," Dunn said. "If you get sick, get rapid treatment."

Meningitis can be spread by common, every-day activities -- including kissing, sharing utensils, sharing drinks, and living in close quarters like dormitories or summer camps. As such, college students are among the highest risk of contracting the disease.

"When we look at who's at the highest risk, it's freshmen living in dormitories," Kris Ehresmann, with the Health Department, told FOX 9 News.

That's why health officials say vaccinations are critical for those heading to college campuses.

"Even if you seek care right away, you can still have devastating consequences from meningitis," Ehresmann warned. "So, you are much better off being vaccinated and preventing the disease altogether."

Last year, there were 12 cases of meningitis in Minnesota. So far this year, eight cases have already been reported.

The symptoms of meningitis include headaches, stiff neck, fever, and rash; however, a patient may not exhibit all of them.

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