The time has finally arrived when you have a young son or daughter that will be attending a college or university in a few weeks. But before they leave the nest you need to get them a shot or as the Aussies say give them a jab.
Nearly 3,000 cases of meningococcal disease (meningitis) are reported every year in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 10-12 percent of the cases are fatal (about 300 to 360). Among those who survive, approximately 20 percent suffer long-term consequences, such as brain damage, kidney disease, hearing loss or loss of limbs.
Why College Students?
Over 16 million students annually attend a U.S. college or university. Studies have shown that freshmen living in dorms are particularly vulnerable to meningococcal disease. Freshmen experience several lifestyle changes, such as living in crowded dormitories, patronizing bars, exposure active or passive smoking, irregular sleep patterns, lack of proper nutrition, and the sharing of personal items. The disease rates begin to climb earlier in adolescence and peak between the ages of 15 and 20 years. Many people in a population can be a carrier of meningococcal bacteria (up to 11 percent) in the nose and back of the throat, and usually nothing happens to a person other than acquiring natural antibodies.
How does it spread?
Meningococcal disease is contagious and progresses very rapidly. The disease is spread through respiratory droplets (e.g., coughing, sneezing) and direct contact with someone who is infected. Direct contact also includes: sharing eating utensils, cigarettes, beer bottles, glass, lip balm or a kiss. Anything an infected person touches with his or her mouth. How many college freshmen can you imagine not having a kiss or two during March Madness. Most cases occur in late winter or early spring.
Symptoms of meningococcal disease often resemble the flu or other minor fever involved illnesses, making it sometimes difficult to diagnose, and may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and confusion.
Untreated, the disease can progress rapidly, often within hours of the first symptoms, and can lead to shock, death or serious complications, including hearing loss, brain damage, kidney disease or limb amputations.
Students should seek medical care immediately if they experience two or more of these symptoms concurrently, or if the symptoms are unusually sudden or severe.
Immunization can prevent up to 80 percent of meningococcal meningitis in adolescents and young adults. The vaccine is safe and effective against four of the five types of the bacteria responsible for meningitis in the U.S. and for the majority of cases in the college age population. The protection lasts approximately three to five years.
For more information about meningococcal meningitis and the vaccine that can help prevent it, visit the following web sites:
National Meningitis Association, www.nmaus.org
Meningitis Foundation of America, www.musa.org
American College Health Association, www.acha.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov
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