Health department urges meningitis immunization for college students

Health department urges meningitis immunization for college students College freshmen planning to live in dormitories should be vaccinated for meningococcal meningitis, says a state health official.

"Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found college freshmen who live in dormitories to be at a slightly higher risk for meningococcal meningitis than others their age," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. "There is no increased risk for college students at other grade levels, but those who want to reduce their risk can also choose to be vaccinated."

Meningococcal meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord that is caused by infection with bacteria. Symptoms can include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, vomiting and a rash. If not treated promptly, it can result in disability or death.

The vaccine protects against four of the five types of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, a leading cause of meningococcal meningitis. It is effective against A, C, Y and W135 but offers no protection against group B. According to the CDC, C and Y cause about 70 percent of cases among college students.

Since 1993, South Dakota has had three cases of meningococcal meningitis associated with college students, one in 1993, one in 1997, and one in 2001. South Dakota reported two cases of meningococcal infection in 2002 and one in 2003, none of which were college students. To date in 2004, South Dakota has had two cases, one of whom was college age.

Students should check with their family health care provider or student health center to receive the vaccine. To help locate a vaccine provider in their area, they can also visit the Web site of Aventis, the sole manufacturer of the vaccine, at http://www.meningitisvaccine.com/. Visitors who enter their zip code can view a list of all clinics in the area that routinely carry the vaccine.

To learn more about meningitis, call the department's Immunization Program at 1-800-738-2301 or visit the web at www.state.sd.us/doh/Pubs/ meningo.htm.

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