Friday, February 11, 2011

Meningitis and college students: A risk you can’t overlook

With everything that new college students have to think about getting — a computer, books, backpack, etc. — vaccinations are not always at the top of the to-do list. But there’s one thing that’s especially important for college students to get: the meningitis vaccine.
While meningitis vaccination is not a requirement for college students entering school in most states, the risks associated with the disease are high enough that all students should consider getting the shot.

Let’s start with the basics: Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. It’s usually caused by a virus or bacteria. Viral meningitis is usually not so bad and clears up on its own in a week or so. Bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, can be a doozy, causing brain damage, deafness or even death. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck and will often also cause nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, rash and confusion.

If you have meningitis, you can pass it on to others through close contact, like kissing, but also through things like coughing or sneezing. That’s why college students, who often live together in close quarters such as dorms or shared apartments, are especially at risk. Each year, there are more than 1,000 U.S. cases of meningococcal disease, a type of bacterial meningitis. Cases that occur on college campuses are common.

The good news is that you can get vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the meningococcal vaccine for all 11- to 18-year-olds as well as for all first-year college students and military recruits. If you haven’t received your shot, you can get it from your doctor, health care provider or school health clinic.

Check out the facts about meningitis, along with a video on how to prevent it, on CDC’s website.

Photo by Chris Schmidt, courtesy iStockphoto

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