Tuesday, August 20, 2013

College students in dorms: Yes, you should get vaccinated for meningitis, or else

With “The Kids” leaving the nest for college (in my day that didn’t happen in August), there’s one public health issue that needs raising again.  That’s bacterial meningitis Wiki link, particularly when caused by meningococcus, or Neisseria meningtidis, biologically a distant relative of gonorrhea.  This form does get spread in repeated close contact in dense housing, especially dormitories and barracks.  In some young adults (possibly more frequently in females), it can lead to the secondary complication of disseminated intravascular coagulation, resulting in sudden limb gangrene and amputations, sometimes of all the limbs.  The clotting seems to be related to unusual toxins released by these bacteria. The idea of this happening to an "attractive" person is gruesome and impossible to take.  

The safest thing is vaccination, which works against most strains.  It is said not to work too well against strain B, but event that immunity should be attempted. 
  
I can remember, as a draftee recruit in Army Basic Combat Training in 1968 at Fort Jackson, SC, that windows in barracks at night were left open because of “meningitis regulations”.   And it could be cold in South Carolina in February, even that far south. 
  
The CDC has a page on meningococcal vaccination here. The CDC recommends a vacation before puberty, and then at least one booster before leaving for college in a dorm environment.  Many colleges require it.  The vaccination of most people creates “herd immunity” (perhaps “nerd herd”) and prevents outbreaks from starting. 
  
  

There are some videos on YouTube that claim dangers from vaccination, including one with Jesse Ventura acting. 
Update: Dec, 4, 2013

There have been major developments in recent months, with a reported outbreak of up to eight cases at Princeton (maybe more) and the approval by the CDC and the university of a new vaccine for type B meningitis just for Princeton students, as the vaccine, used in Europe, does not yet have FDA approval.

The Washington Post this morning reported on an outbreak at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where there are more students and a smaller percentage of cases so the CDC has not yet authorized the vaccine.  But one lacrosse player lost both feet to the infection and says that his arms and legs were rotting off, in a first person account that sounds gruesome.  The link is here.

I would say, the FDA should get off its butt and approve this type B vaccine right now,  It is needed on all campuses now.

Wikipedia picture of University of Santa Barbara campus below.  I visited it in 2002.  Wikipedia link.

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