Arkansas Act 1233 of 1999 requires colleges and universities to notify students and their parents or guardians of the increased risk of meningococcal disease among students who live in close quarters like residence halls.
Recently, an improved vaccine has been released and the Center for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American College Health Association have come out with a recommendation that "all college students under 25 years of age who live in residence halls may choose to be vaccinated to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease."
The ACIP press release said "college freshmen who live in dormitories are six times more likely than other people to be infected with meningitis. They have the country's highest rate of the disease at 5.1 cases per 100,000. While the disease is rare, it is devastating.
The new vaccine is effective for more than eight years, while the old vaccine lasted for just three to five years. The old vaccine also didn't prevent people from being carriers of the bacteria; the new one does."
Please consult your private physicians on this matter and let me know if I can be of any assistance to you regarding this or any other concerns you might have about your son or daughter. You may contact the nurse by calling 479-524-7320 or by email RHostler@jbu.edu
What is meningitis and meningococcal infection?
Meningitis is an infection that can lead to a dangerous swelling of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease can be caused by either viruses or bacteria. The symptoms you feel and how a doctor treats the infection depend on what kind of organism is causing it.
The bad news is that if meningococcal infection goes untreated, it can lead to permanent disabilities such as hearing loss, brain damage, seizures or amputation; it can even lead to death. The good news is that if it's caught early, meningitis is curable in most cases. Of course, it's even better to prevent the disease altogether.
Viral vs. bacterial meningitis
There are two kinds of meningitis, each caused by a different type of organism:
- Viral Meningitis
This is the more common form of the disease. Viral meningitis is usually not as serious as bacterial meningitis, and patients usually get better with minimal treatment.
- Bacterial Meningitis
This form of the disease is often referred to as meningococcal meningitis. Because it can be easily spread, meningococcal meningitis can cause outbreaks in a specific area, such as a college campus. Infection can cause serious illness, long-lasting effects on the nervous system or death within 24-28 hours.
A risk on the rise for college students
Since the early 1990s, there has been an increase in meningitis outbreaks in the United States. In fact, the number of cases has nearly doubled among young adults (15-24 years of age) from 1991 to 1996. Fortunately, this type of meningococcal infection can potentially be prevented with a vaccine. Meningitis vaccination can protect against strains A, C, Y and W-135. Now you can see why it is so important to protect your child against meningitis before sending him or her off to college.
Why are college students at greater risk?
College students have a greater risk of meningococcal infection than the general population because of activities that are often a part of college life, such as smoking, being around someone who smokes (passive smoking), going out to bars, drinking alcohol and living in a dormitory.
Your child can be at risk because the infection is easily spread through direct contact with oral secretions. Such contact includes coughing, sharing of utensils or kissing. And, of course, even if they live off campus and don't smoke or drink themselves, all college students are at a greater risk for meningococcal infection because of the close contact they have in classes and activities with other students.
Since the early 1990s there has been an increase in meningitis outbreaks in the United States. And about one-third of all outbreaks from 1991 to 1996 occurred in schools, universities or other organization-based setting. That is why ACHA recommends that students consider vaccination to reduce their risk of potential fatal meningococcal disease.
Is vaccination safe?
Yes, the meningitis vaccine is generally safe and effective. However, some reactions (eg, soreness or redness at the injection site, mild fever) can happen with all vaccines.
In addition, some precautions apply. Some vaccines are not recommended during pregnancy. Some are not safe to use if a person has compromised immune system or certain health conditions. No vaccine protects 100 percent of susceptible individuals. For further information please see your physician for Prescribing Information. Check with your child's physician, local public health clinics or student health services if you have a question or concern.