This August marks the first annual meningitis awareness month.
Meningitis is a contagious viral or bacterial infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Treatment requires early diagnosis and access to antibiotics.
Since 1991, there has been an increase in a form of bacterial meningitis known as meningococcal meningitis. According to the American College Health Association, the rare form has been increasingly affecting persons ages 15-24 and can be life-threatening.
Meningitis awareness month is designed to educate the public and help prevent the mysterious disease.
Melody Beck was recently on campus with her daughter Sarah, at student check-in. Both of them have heard of meningitis, but were unaware of the danger it presented.
“Just one more thing to worry about,” Melody Beck said.
Annually the disease strikes about 3,000 people resulting in some 300 deaths. Of those numbers, 100 to 125 are college students, with 5 to 15 students dying from the disease. This March, a 20-year-old college student attending the University of Minnesota died from the disease.
College freshman living in crowded dormitories with people of diverse geographic backgrounds are at a “modestly increased risk” according to a report by the Advisory Committee on Immunization to the Center for Disease Control.
Because meningococcal meningitis has flu-like symptoms and occurs in late winter and early spring, it is often misdiagnosed, leading to devastating effects. The disease progresses rapidly and can result in brain damage, organ failure, loss of limbs, hearing failure or death.
There is a vaccine available and advised for college students by the CDC and the ACHA. This vaccine is 85 to 100 percent effective and protection lasts three to five years.
Jolene Firman, a 19 year-old University of Alaska Anchorage student from Fort Yukon got her vaccination last year after learning about a boy whose limbs were amputated because of the disease.
“I read that and told my parents I wanted the vaccine,” Firman said.
UAA students living in the dormitories are given a packet that lists campus housing’s required immunizations. The meningitis vaccine is recommended, but not required.
UAA’s interim director of housing and dining services, Debra Valaars recalls being surprised after hearing about a death in the lower 48 from the disease, “It always comes as such a shock.”
Although UAA does not require meningitis immunization, some universities with a history of outbreaks do, said Dyann Bowland, a nurse at UAA’s Student Health Center where the vaccine is available to students.
“We encourage it and think it’s a good idea,” Bowland said.
Before sending her own children to college, she had them vaccinated against the rare, but serious disease.
- High fever,
- stiff neck,
Vaccinations are available at:
Student Health Center (BEB 120). Call 786-4040 ~ Vaccinations cost: $62
- Meningitis Foundation of America [www.musa.org]
- American College Health Association [www.acha.org]
- Centers for Disease Control [www.cdc.gov]