If you have a student headed to college, you’ll need immunization records. And if your student will be living on campus, he’ll likely be required to have the meningitis vaccination — and for good reason.
College freshmen are the most likely segment of the US population to contract bacterial meningitis. Because so many students in this group live together so closely in college residence halls, they are six times more likely to contract the disease than other segments of the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 2,600 people in the United States contract meningitis each year and as many as 10-14% of those (1 in 7) will die. Many who survive may have lasting disabilities.
The good news is that according to the American College Health Association, 80% of those cases could be prevented.
Bacterial meningitis is a serious disease. The infection of the brain and spinal cord can be fatal and moves very quickly. Symptoms such as high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, sensitivity to light, vomiting, and exhaustion often mimic influenza and may not be diagnosed immediately. Meningitis is spread through body secretions and may be shared through kissing, sharing utensils, glasses or water bottles, or other close social contact. Students living in college residence halls live in close contact.
College freshmen are particularly at risk for bacterial meningitis for several reasons. Living in close quarters obviously increases the likelihood that the disease will spread. Students are exposed to a broader group of students, often from diverse geographic locations. New students’ lifestyles often include less sleep, more stress, and altered diet — all affecting the immune system.
It is very likely that your student has already been vaccinated for bacterial meningitis. The current recommendation is for children to be vaccinated between 11-12 years of age with a booster at 16. If your student has had this booster, he will be set for college. If not, he should talk with his doctor about receiving the booster (or initial vaccination) before heading to college.
Many states now require that students planning to live in campus housing show proof of the meningitis vaccination, or a waiver, before entering college. At least eleven states require proof or a waiver with an additional twenty-three states urging vaccination and requiring education. The vaccination may not be required for students over the age of 22, students studying only online, students whose physician states that the vaccination would be injurious to their health, or students who sign a waiver form for reasons of conscience (including religious reasons).
Outbreaks of bacterial meningitis on college campuses are becoming less frequent as more and more states require proof of vaccination. But two outbreaks this past year, in California and New Jersey, demonstrate the importance of the vaccine. Be sure that your college student talks to her physician about any necessary vaccinations for beginning college. Be sure to read all health forms from the college early. Don’t be caught off guard at the last minute because your student isn’t prepared.