Meningitis on Campus

By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter
By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter

UT Campus, Knoxville (WVLT) - Meningococcal disease is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in older children and young adults in the United States.

College freshman living in dormitories are particularly at risk, right now.

Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard is Covering Your Health with more on meningitis on campus.

On February tenth of last year, the advisory committee on immunization practices voted to recommend all incoming college freshman living in dorms get vaccinated against meningitis.

Evidence shows 70 to 80 percent of cases in college age students could be prevented by a single vaccine.

They have descended on college campuses nationwide.

But in the midst of moving in, starting classes and meeting new people, many college students are unaware or unconcerned they account for nearly 30 percent of all cases of meningitis in the US.

Approximately 100 to 125 cases of meningitis occur on college campuses each year, and five to 15 students will die as a result.

"Well, if a freshman is going to live in a dorm, their risk of developing meningococcal disease is five to six times higher than that of the average population," says Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox Co. Public Health Officer.

They're most at risk right now, in crowded living quarters.

And as the temperatures drop, their risk will rise. UT Medical Center ER Director Kip Wenger says he will treat about one to two cases of viral meningitis a week.

"Personally, I see one or two cases a year of bacterial meningitis," Dr. Wenger says.

Meningitis is contagious and spreads very quickly through coughing and sneezing or direct contact with an infected person, such as sharing a drinking glass.

It can be difficult to diagnose, because its symptoms resemble those of the flu and many other illnesses, but meningitis is unusually sudden and severe.

"If you have the worst headache you've ever had, if you literally can't move your neck up and down, if you have high fevers... those are things that are very suspicious to us as emergency physicians, emergency providers," Dr. Wenger says.

It's diagnosed through a lumbar puncture, or what's commonly called a spinal tap.

But it could be prevented altogether in 70 to 80 percent of cases in college students.

One Menactra vaccine can provide protection for four to five years, or the average college career.

If not treated early, meningitis can lead to death or permanent disabilities.

One in five people who do survive will suffer from long-term side effects, such as brain damage, hearing loss, seizures or amputation.

It strikes 1400 to 3000 Americans each year and is responsible for approximately 150 to 300 deaths.


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