Study says colleges are more susceptible to meningitis spread

Ashley Sepanski

While working off those extra

winter pounds or simply spending

more time outdoors, the simple act

of not sharing water bottles could

save students’ lives.

According to the Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention’s

Web site, the most common form

of Meningococcal disease, bacterial

meningitis, is a potentially fatal

illness easily spread through the

exchange of respiratory or throat

secretions, or acts like coughing,

kissing and sharing drinks.

Along with bacterial, meningitis

can be viral or fungal. All three

forms are most likely to affect college

freshmen, travelers, pre-teens

and adolescents.

Although none of the bacteria

that cause bacterial meningitis are

as contagious as the flu or common

cold, the disease inflames the membranes

covering the brain and spinal

cord and is far more dangerous.

Once contracted, the disease could

ultimately lead to brain damage,

hearing loss, learning disabilities or


Amy, a nurse from the 24-hour

University Health Services nurse

line, said it is important for students,

especially those living in a

dorm, to get a meningitis vaccine.

She said the vaccine may become

mandatory for incoming freshmen

in upcoming years.

“It’s not mandatory at this

time, but it may be in the very near

future,” said Amy, who declined to

give her last name. “They do recommend

it if you’re living in a dorm,

but it’s not mandatory. But like I

said, that law should be changing in

the near future to where it will be.”

According to the American College

Health Association’s National

College Health Assessment, in 2009

only 53.8 percent of college students

— one of the groups most susceptible

to the disease — received a


Lauren Yovanno, junior fashion

merchandising major, said most students

are unaware of the dangers of

meningitis and of how easy it is to


“I got vaccinated as a kid, but

a lot of people I know haven’t gotten

it,” Yovanno said. “College kids

are around each other all the time,

so it’s really important for them if

they don’t want to get sick. Actually,

I’m not sure why it’s not required

before you start school.”

Amy said anyone experiencing symptoms such as sudden fever, headache and stiff neck should immediately see a doctor to be evaluated. According to the CDC, bacterial meningitis can be effectively treated with several different antibiotics, and the vaccine can prevent most forms of meningitis.

“No one should be dying or brain damaged from meningitis when there’s a vaccine out there to prevent it,” Yovanno said.

Contact health reporter Ashley Sepanski at [email protected].