updated 1/17/2005 2:46:07 PM ET 2005-01-17T19:46:07

The Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaccine to protect people age 11 to 55 against bacterial meningitis, which is rare but potentially deadly and debilitating.

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The company Aventis Pasteur received approval from the federal agency to manufacture the vaccine Menactra to protect against the A, C, Y and W-135 strains of bacteria that cause meningococcal diseases.

“Adolescents and young adults are at increased risk for contracting meningococcal disease.  I’m very pleased that pediatricians and family physicians in the United States now have a new tool to reduce the number of cases among this age group,” Dr. Michael Pichichero, a professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a statement released Monday by Aventis Pasteur.

The FDA granted approval on Friday. Aventis Pasteur said a single dose of Menactra showed enough power to protect students all through their college years. The current vaccine required booster shots to cover a similar period.

In the United States, fewer than 3,000 cases of invasive meningococcal disease are reported each year, the Centers for Disease Control says. People 15-24 suffer the highest mortality rates, and survivors can suffer mental disabilities, hearing loss and paralysis.

The CDC favors routine immunization for all adolescents and college freshmen living in residence halls. Close contact is among the risk factors for the ailment.

Worldwide, more than 500,000 cases of meningococcal disease occur each year, causing 135,000 deaths.

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