Reducing the Risk of Meningitis Among Incoming Freshmen – health

Reducing the Risk of Meningitis Among Incoming Freshmen – health – Brief Article

College freshmen living in dormitories have a higher risk of contracting meningitis than other college students, a recent study indicates.

Researchers, led by Michael Bruce, M.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say that vaccinating incoming freshman each year could substantially decrease their risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis–a bacterial infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. The infection can be spread by kissing or sharing utensils.

Meningococcal meningitis is fatal in about 10 percent of cases and causes significant harm in another 10 percent. Another form, viral meningitis, generally is less serious. Earlier studies have shown that students who live on campus have a higher risk of developing the disease than students who live in off-campus housing.

The latest study, published in the Aug. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed the records of 96 American college students ages 18 to 23 who were found to have had meningococcal infection between Sept. 1, 1998, and Aug. 31, 1999. According to Bruce, 68 percent of the 79 students for whom information was available had infections that may have been prevented through vaccination. The study also found that the overall incidence of meningococcal meningitis was 0.7 per 100,000 students, compared with 5.1 per 100,000 for freshmen living in dormitories.

According to the study, crowded conditions and the possibility that upperclassmen may have developed protective immunity to the disease may explain the differences.

Increasingly, colleges and universities are warning incoming students of the bacterial disease and are sponsoring vaccination clinics. The vaccine is effective for three to five years.

COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Government Printing Office

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