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updated 6/22/2011 3:46:37 PM ET 2011-06-22T19:46:37

A vaccine against meningococcal disease, which is a life-threatening bacterial infection, should be given to some infants as young as 9 months old, an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

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The recommendation applies only to infants who are at high risk of contracting the disease, the panel said. These include infants who travel to or live in countries outside the United States where the disease is common, and those who have certain immune deficiencies.

This group is small — just a few thousand children in the United States, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

"The recommendation is "aimed at protecting a handful of high-risk children," Schaffner said.

The panel won't vote on whether to recommend routine vaccination for use in infants in the general population until 2012.

Previously, the panel recommended the vaccine for at-risk children as young as 2 years old.

The vaccine, called Menactra (manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur), would be given in two doses three months apart. In April, the Food and Drug Administration approved use of this vaccine in children as young as 9 months.

In those not at high risk, the meningococcal vaccine is usually given to children when they are 11 to 12 years old. The vaccine is also recommended for college students living in dormitories.

Meningococcal disease is one type of bacterial meningitis, and is caused by an infection of the bacteria Neisseria meningitides in the bloodstream or the fluid that surrounding the brain and spinal cord, according to the CDC.

Two other bacteria that can also cause meningitis — Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and Streptococcus pneumonia. Vaccines exist for both and are already recommended for infants.

Meningococcal disease affects about 1,000 to 2,600 people in the United States each year, 10 to 15 percent of whom die from the illness, the CDC said. Those who survive can suffer complications, including deafness and loss of limbs.

The vaccine the panel discussed today protects against four types of meningococcal disease, but it does not protect against a strain known as serogroup B. Unfortunately, this type is responsible for about half of all cases of meningococcal disease in preschoolers, Dr. Edgar Marcuse, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in an interview yesterday (June 21).

"We have a vaccine, but not yet a vaccine against the most common cause of this [meningococcal] illness in this age group," Schaffner said.

Pass it on: A meningococcal disease vaccine can be given to infants at risk of contracting the disease.

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Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Rachael Rettner on Twitter @ RachaelRettner.

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