New meningitis vaccination recommendations
In a departure from past recommendations, a government panel is now
recommending that all college freshmen living in dorms be vaccinated
for meningitis. The panel is also advising doctors to inoculate all
11-to 12-year-old children.
The new recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is a reversal of previous
policy and was driven by the availability of a new vaccine, Menactra.
Widespread vaccination for college students was not recommended the last
time this issue was addressed in 1997, due to the high cost of vaccination
and the fairly low risk of contracting bacterial meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord and brain coverings
that requires prompt treatment with antibiotics. Symptoms of the disease
begin with headache, high fever, and neck stiffness. The infection progresses
very quickly and can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, organ damage,
limb amputation, and eventually death. Because it is passed through respiratory
and throat secretions, meningitis can spread very quickly through cramped
college dorms via coughing, kissing, or sneezing. Though the baseline
risk for meningitis is very low to begin with, this risk is six times
higher for college students living in dorms, especially freshmen, than
for college students overall.
Although bacterial meningitis risk has not increased, holding steady
at about 3,000 cases per year in the U.S., increased vaccination for
meningitis will certainly save lives. The new vaccine provides many improvements
on the last available vaccine. It is effective for more than eight years,
while the old vaccine lasted for just three to five years. The new vaccine
also prevents people from becoming carriers of the bacteria, unlike the
March 2005 Update
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