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College students should get meningitis vaccine PDF Print E-mail

College season is almost underway. Parents who are preparing to send a child to college soon, make sure your student receives the meningitis vaccinations.

Meningitis or “spinal meningitis” is an inflammation and an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. The swelling can result in nerve damage, learning disabilities or death. 

The risk of meningitis is most prevalent at college campuses and incoming freshman, especially those living in the dormitories, are recommended by their school to receive the vaccination.

Because the dorms consist of large populations with close living conditions, people living there are more susceptible to contract meningitis because the bacteria is spread person-to-person through the air by respiratory droplets from the nose, throat and saliva.

If not vaccinated the result could become an epidemic. In fact the disease strikes 1,400 to 3,000 Americans each year and is responsible for approximately 150 to 300 deaths. 

Adolescents and young adults account for nearly 30 percent of all cases of meningitis in the United States. In addition, approximately 100 to 125 cases of meningococcal disease occur on college campuses each year, and five to 15 students will die as a result. 

For that reason the meningococcal vaccination is recommended to protect against four of the five most common strains (or types) of N. meningitidis (A, C, Y, and W-135). In people who are 15 to 24 years of age, 70 to 80 percent of cases are caused by potentially vaccine-preventable strains. The vaccine is also recommended to those college students under 25 years old who wish to reduce their risk.

Meningitis can be caused by one of two things, by a viral or bacterial infection. Viral meningitis is less severe and often can be cleared up without specific treatment. However, bacterial meningitis can be much more severe and can result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, seizures or limb amputation. 

The symptoms are not unlike many types of flu and progress rapidly. High fever, headache and stiff neck are common symptoms of meningitis and can take several hours or 1 to 2 days to develop. Other symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, sleepiness or trouble waking up, lack of appetite and altered mental status.

It is crucial to be diagnosed early so students who notice these symptoms–in themselves, friends, or others–especially if the symptoms are unusually sudden or severe, should contact their college health center or local hospital.

Even when diagnosed early, 5-10 percent of infected individuals die within 24-48 hours of diagnosis, according to The World Health Organization. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that the following age groups get the vaccine:

Children: Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for certain high-risk children from ages 2 through 10

Pre-teens/Adolescents: meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended for all 11 through 18-year-olds. If your child did not get this vaccine at the 11- or 12-year-old check-up, make an appointment for him or her to get it now.

Adults: Either meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine or meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for adults if they:

•  Are a college freshman living in a dormitory

•  Are a military recruit

• Have a damaged spleen or your spleen has been removed

• Have a terminal complement deficiency 

• Are a traveling to or residing in countries in which the disease is common.


Source:  Centers for Disease Control and Preventions

and American College Health Association