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October 31, 2002

Meningitis vaccines offered today

From: The Post, Ohio University, OH
Oct. 31, 2002

by Kate Reichert

Ohio University will bring healthcare company Vaccess to campus to give immunizations for meningococcal meningitis in Baker University Center Ballroom today from 1 to 7 p.m.

“We had over 700 students get vaccinated last year,” said Patricia DeBruin, director of nursing at OU. “We encourage it.”

Meningococcal meningitis, commonly referred to as spinal meningitis, is a deadly bacterial infection that leads to inflammation of the membranes around the spinal cord and brain. This particular form of meningitis is transmitted through air droplets and direct contact with an infected person. This contact includes sharing drinking glasses, cigarettes and intimate contact such as kissing.

According to the American College Health Association, the close quarters, the sharing of personal items and the union of different strains of the bacteria give college freshmen living in residence halls a six-fold increased risk for the disease.

During the last school year, one case was reported at OU. The student who contracted the disease lived in a residence hall on campus and was also a fraternity member. DeBruin said once it was confirmed that the student had meningitis, students in his residence hall and the fraternity brothers living in the fraternity house immediately were called to the health center to receive antibiotics as a precaution.

A vaccine is available to students throughout the year at Hudson for $65. This does not need to be an out-of-pocket expense for students; it can be added to one’s student account if desired, DeBruin said. As a recommendation from the American College Health Association and as a courtesy to concerned parents, information about the vaccine is given at Precollege information sessions before freshmen move in.

DeBruin said she understands why college students in particular are such a high risk for contracting this disease.

“It just amazes me what college students share,” DeBruin said. “They even share razors! And they’re just at risk as a whole because drinking on college campuses puts them in a situation where they are exposed to more germs.”

Meningococcal meningitis’ symptoms are very similar to flu symptoms at the onset of attack. High fever, rash, vomiting, severe headache, neck stiffness, lethargy and sensitivity to light all characterize the disease. Any student who experiences any two or more of these symptoms is strongly urged to seek medical assistance because of the speed at which meningitis can debilitate its victims.

Dr. James Turner, the executive director of the Department of Student Health at the University of Virginia, said the disease kills only about 600 people each year, but the incidence of spinal meningitis among people ages 15 to 24 more than doubled in one decade. It is unclear why the increase occurred.

Turner hypothesizes about a possible new strain that could have a particularly high potency. “It could be a strain that circulates among communities that is particularly powerful… It could be that humans don’t develop good antibodies to that particular strain.”

Cases of meningitis on campuses might not always lead to death, but they can lead to other results such as brain damage, hearing loss and limb amputation several, according to the American College Health Association.

Representatives from the Meningitis Foundation of America and the American College Health Association said getting the vaccine should be a serious consideration for college students.

“It is enough of a concern to consider the vaccine and get information,” DeBruin said. “But as they say, it’s not a big deal unless it’s you or your child.”

© 2002 The Post