I’m a freshman living on campus. My mom keeps nagging me about getting a meningitis vaccination. I’ve heard about meningitis, but I don’t know exactly what it is. Is it contagious? Is it transmitted through sex, saliva, cuts? OR is it airborne? Basically I want to know if I really need the vaccination or if my mother is overreacting.
-Confused in the Residential Colleges
Questions about meningitis always arise at the start of the fall semester. Meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection. The disease can occur either as Meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or Meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood.
Each year, meningococcal meningitis strikes between one to three individuals for every 100,000 Americans. Studies indicate that freshman living in on-campus housing have a slightly greater risk of becoming infected. According to statistics, 100 to 125 cases of meningitis occur each year on college campuses; five to 15 students will die as a result.
Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through the air via respiratory droplets and through direct contact with infected persons. Therefore, intimate contact, such as kissing, or sharing items that have been in your mouth such as cigarettes or drinking glasses increase an individual’s risk of becoming infected. In addition to intimate contact and dormitory living, the American College Health Association also identifies exposure to active/passive smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and bar patronage as risks for meningitis.
Symptoms resemble influenza (flu) and include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting and lethargy. It is important that students who experience two or more of these symptoms seek medical care immediately. The disease progresses rapidly, often in as little as twelve hours, and may lead to shock or death.
Methods of preventing meningitis are limited. Individuals should practice good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing. Stay clear of people who are coughing and sneezing. Avoid the behaviors that increase the chances of contracting meningitis (e.g., sharing cigarettes, utensils or drinking glasses).
Fortunately, a safe and effective vaccine is available to protect individuals against infection. Antibodies develop within two weeks after immunization and protection lasts for approximately three to five years. Vaccines are able to prevent approximately two-thirds of cases on college campuses. Student Health Services offers the immunization for $70 to all UM students. Shots are available on a walk-in basis; appointments are not necessary.
For more information on meningitis, visit the American College Health website at www.acha.org or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov. For more on the meningitis vaccine, please visit www.miami.edu/student-health, or call X8- 5927.
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Lilly DeArmas is a sophomore majoring in biology. She works as a CHAMP counselor at the Wellness Center.