Bacterial meningitis vaccinations show decrease on campus

There may be another worry for parents who send their children off to college.

College students living in residence halls are six times more likely to get meningococcal disease, otherwise known as “bacterial meningitis,” an uncommon yet deadly bacterial infection, according to the Student Health Service.

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by a bacteria that can cause inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain, and spinal cord and according University Physician in Chief Dr. Glenn Egelman, it seems like fewer students are getting the vaccine.

“We encourage it,” he said. “We actually have a surplus here. The number of students who got the vaccine has dropped and that’s concerning.”

Bacterial meningitis is most common among college students because they live in such close quarters with one another and the infection is spread via air droplets, direct or intimate contact, including kissing, sharing toothbrushes, sharing a cigarette or eating utensils.

The symptoms of meningitis are similar to the flu, which is one of the many reasons this disease is so deadly. The disease attacks and shuts down major organs and stops the blood flow to limbs, causing tissue to die. If they aren’t hospitalized quickly enough, the student can die within 48 hours from receiving meningitis.

“It’s concerning,” Egelman said.

However, students at the University who choose to live in a residence hall are required by the state of Ohio to either receive the meningitis vaccine, Menactra, or sign a waiver claiming they read about meningitis and understand the consequences of not receiving the vaccination. The vaccine is 83 percent effective in preventing four of the five strands of bacterial meningitis and is safe to use, and very few people have minor reactions to it, according to a Student Health Service booklet.

“It’s a very rare occurrence,” Egelman said. “But when it does happen, it’s nasty.”

In fact, bacterial meningitis infects fewer than 3,000 people in the United States each year. The University has not had a case of bacterial meningitis in 10 years.

Statistically speaking, the University may be at risk of having a case of meningitis, Egelman said, because meningitis isn’t necessarily going to come once every 10 years.

Still, he doesn’t consider one case to be threatening.

“One case is not an outbreak,” Egelman said. “More than one case and we can link them together is an outbreak.”

Right now, there is even a debate about whether or not states nationwide should make the vaccination mandatory for all college students.

Some believe bacterial meningitis is so rare, it would be foolish to make it required. People also point to the cost of the vaccination.

Others believe it’s necessary, including University students Matt Sandella and Matt O’Shea.

“I think they should make it mandatory for all college students,” Sandella said. “Because it’s good to know that I can’t get it.”

O’Shea added, “Yeah, it only benefits you.”

The Student Health Center feels students should take the proper precautions and be protected when it comes to getting the vaccination. Meningitis vaccinations cost $102 for students and is covered by most insurance policies.