Get shot up: Freshmen: get vaccinated for bacterial meningitis

By By Allie Schulte

By Allie Schulte

U students may be at risk for contracting bacterial meningitis, a rare disease that can cause comas and even death.

The disease is most likely to affect those living in dorm-like environments, and with the recent discovery of a new vaccine, Menactra, students living in close quarters-freshmen in particular-are being encouraged to get the vaccine.

“The disease progresses very rapidly, and it can become fatal very quickly if it is not treated,” Director of Student Health Services Vicki Judd said. “Even those who survive the disease (may) lose limbs because of it.”

The disease affects about 100 U.S. students a year.

Last April a U student was diagnosed with the disease while on a school-sponsored trip.

“Incoming freshmen living in close quarters, such as dormitories, sororities or fraternities have a much higher risk of developing the disease,” Judd said.

The disease spreads through droplets in the air, as well as through direct contact with an infected individual.

About 30 percent of people ages 15 to 24 carry the disease, although they may not all develop it themselves.

“The more people there are in a dormitory that are vaccinated, the less chance there is of contracting the disease,” Carrie Byington, associate professor of general pediatrics and infectious diseases, said.

Since the new vaccine prevents four of the five types of the disease, almost all of the instances of infection found in Utah since 2001 could have been prevented through vaccination.

“The new vaccine gives you a better, higher immune response,” Director of the Drug Information Services at University Hospital Linda Tyler said.

With one vaccination, students are expected to be immune for at least 10 years, Tyler said. Past vaccines only lasted a maximum of five years.

Menactra also prevents the spread of the disease to others, Byington said.

“Because Menactra is new and because of the increase in the number of people who need it, they are trying to increase production to keep up with the demand,” Tyler said.

The vaccine is currently being allocated, and there will not be a consistent amount at any location until mid-October.

The mortality rate for adolescents, about 40 percent, is significantly higher than those of other age groups.

“The mortality rate has a lot to do with the delay in care,” Byington said. “Often students assume they have the flu and neglect getting the care they need.”

The symptoms for meningitis include fever, sore throat and muscle aches.

A skin rash similar to bruises develops.

In a matter of hours, the victim can go into shock or a coma.

The key is to prevent the disease all together, Byington said.

Vaccinations are available from the U Student Health Services for $86.

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