Why a Vaccine for Meningitis?


No matter how many scholarships and grants a student has under his or her belt, the freshman year of college always ends up costing more than expected. With the price of textbooks, the cost of housing and the expenses involved in getting from home to school and back on a regular basis, it's tempting to skip a few budget items that some people may consider optional, such as vaccination against meningococcal disease.

Depending on the vaccine and where it is administered, the vaccine can cost between $90 and $120 per person. Dr. Jean Haulman, associate medical director for immunization services and public health at University of Washington's Hall Health Center, points out that if you're going to make the decision on an economic basis, you'll want to calculate in the potential costs of getting meningitis.

Experts estimate that each case of meningitis costs between $600,000 and $1.8 million to treat. If you're calculating in the death of a young adult, then it's between $7 million and $20 million, Haulman says. While the vaccine may be comparatively expensive next to other medications, the benefit that most parents can understand is that their child won't have to face the possibility of neurologic disease, amputations, mental impairment and deafness.

While meningococcal disease is not as common as measles or whooping cough, about 20 percent of the people who contract the disease die, while about 50 percent of those who survive suffer permanent damage. The disease is so common among college freshmen living in dormitories that many universities strongly encourage incoming students to seek immunization, either before they arrive or shortly thereafter.

The combination of living in close quarters coupled with poor hygiene sets up students, military enlistees and sometimes children attending summer camps for meningococcal disease.

The problem with Neisseria meningitidis, the bacteria that causes meningitis, is that some people who carry it don't become ill, but pass it on to others. You can have a carrier who is sharing drinks or cigarettes or kissing others, and passing the bacteria around, Haulman says. There is an increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease if you frequent bars and are a smoker. It is definitely related to oral hygiene.

While the vaccine that was available until recently was only good for two to three years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently licensed a vaccine that is effective for 10 years. Both the vaccines provide immunization for four of the five types of meningococcus that cause the disease, including the types that are most common in the United States. This means that it is still possible to contract meningitis after immunization, but it is much less likely.

The new vaccine is effective at removing the meningococcal bacteria from the nasal passages of carriers, offering some additional protection to younger children and older adults who may not receive the vaccine. The CDC is hoping to recommend routine vaccinations for all adolescents in about three years, once the vaccine supply increases.

Eleven and 12-year-olds will start being vaccinated with the new vaccine, in order to prevent some of the disease peaks they run into when they go to summer camp or to educational programs on college campuses, Haulman adds. While these younger students may not drink or smoke, they usually don't have any better habits than college freshmen. Adolescents in general don't wash their hands frequently and they share food and drinks with each other.

Source: University of Washington's Hall Health Center




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