Meningitis vaccine a campus requirement

By Rebecca Glista Special to The Review Published: June 1, 2016 3:00 AM
Editor's Note: The following column is an interactive question-and-answer feature appearing the first Wednesday of each month. Readers are encouraged to send health-related questions that will be answered by a local medical professional to Today's question below is being answered by Rebecca Glista, BSN, RN, CCRN, infection preventionist at Alliance Community Hospital.

Q. I just graduated from high school and plan to attend college. I am told I need to be vaccinated for meningitis before I get to campus. Is this a common requirement? -- Bill L., Alliance.

A. The short answer is yes, many colleges and universities require you to be vaccinated for meningococcal infections, and for good reason.

I am going to assume that you have never received a vaccine up to this point. Actually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all 11- to 12-year-old preteens be vaccinated with a single dose of a quadrivalent vaccine. This provides protection against most meningococcal infections but the protection declines in about five years.

A booster is recommended at age 16 to help protect teens during the years when the risk of exposure is highest. Due to the high number of cases nationwide in recent years, many colleges and universities require proof of being vaccinated.

We in Alliance know all too well what bacterial meningitis can do. It was 15 years ago this year that the area lost two young lives to this terrible disease.

The disease is spread person to person by exchanging saliva with someone who has meningococcal disease or who is a carrier, such as through kissing, sharing drinking glasses or toothbrushes, or being in close proximity to a cough. It is not spread by casual contact.

Symptoms include sudden fever, headache and stiff neck often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light or a change in mental status. Symptoms can come instantly or over several days. The disease can strike quickly and death can occur in a few hours.

The CDC says the following people are at high risk for meningococcal disease and should get vaccinated:

College students living in a dormitory.

Military recruits.

Anyone with a damaged spleen or no spleen.

Anyone with an immune system disorder.

Anyone traveling or residing in countries in which the disease is common.

Anyone who has skipped routine recommended vaccinations.

Even if you have not been vaccinated up to this point, it is highly recommended, and in your case, apparently required, to be vaccinated with the quadrivalent vaccine. This vaccine, by the way, is deemed safe by the CDC and is no more painful than a regular shot.

Knowing what we know, and having experienced a tragic loss of lives in our community, you will be well served to be vaccinated. Even if it were not required by the college of your choice, you would be wise to protect yourself from this deadly disease.

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