The proportion of cases among adolescents and young adults has increased in recent years, including cases at U.S. colleges and universities. Studies indicate college freshmen living in dormitories are at increased risk for disease and that up to 80 percent of meningococcal cases among college students are vaccine preventable.
While meningococcal disease is rare, it is a very serious illness with potentially tragic consequences, said State Health Commissioner Robert. B. Stroube, MD, MPH. The symptoms can sometimes resemble the flu and the majority of cases can occur in the winter months, making diagnosis difficult.
Prior to enrollment in any public four-year institution of higher education, Virginia law requires all incoming full-time students to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease or to sign a waiver stating they are aware of the risks, but chose not to be vaccinated. In addition, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both urge parents and college students especially those who live in or plan to live in dormitories to learn more about meningococcal disease and the potential benefits of vaccination.
Caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides, meningococcal disease can lead to an infection of the brain and spinal cord coverings and bloodstream infection. It is primarily transmitted through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (i.e., coughing, sneezing, kissing and sharing items such as a drinking glass, lip balm, utensils or cigarettes). The risk for college students also has been linked to certain social behaviors, such as exposure to passive and active smoking, bar patronage and excessive alcohol consumption.
The CDC reports that nearly 3,000 people are diagnosed with meningococcal disease in the U.S. each year. About 10 percent of these people die, in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Of those who survive, one in five suffer long-term effects that can include brain damage, seizures, and hearing loss or limb amputations.
We encourage young adults entering college to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, Stroube stressed. The vaccine is approximately 85 percent to 100 percent effective, adverse reactions are mild and the vaccine protects for three to five years.
For more information about meningococcal disease or the vaccine, contact your local health department or visit the Virginia Department of Health Division of Immunization Web site at www.vdh.state.va.us/imm/index.asp.
Source: Virginia Department of Health