'Shmen face higher risk for meningitis

by Jennifer Thomas | 8/16/01 5:00am

A study conducted by the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found that bacterial meningitis -- which in the past few years has taken the lives of two members of the Dartmouth community -- is three times as prevalent among first-year college students than other undergraduates.

Using data from all 50 states, including 231 college health centers, researchers found that of the 96 cases of meningococcal disease cited in the academic year ending in August of 1999, 30 were found in freshmen. A previous study found that freshmen living in dormitories are at especially high risk for contracting the disease.

In the wake of the tragic meningitis-related deaths of College professor of Environmental Studies Donela Meadows and student Jenica Rosenkrans '00, approximately 75 percent of Dartmouth students were vaccinated for the fatal disease during the academic year 1999 to 2000.

Currently, both the College itself and the American College Health Association strongly encourage meningitis immunization. According to Dartmouth's website, although the vaccine "is especially recommended for first-year undergraduate students," it is not a pre-matriculation requirement.

In a related study, Johns Hopkins University researchers found that the rate of meningococcal infection among young adults ages 15-24 rose during the 1990s but has decreased slightly since then.

However, the researchers also found that more than four out of every five cases could have been prevented by vaccination.

"Taken together, these studies demonstrate that meningococcal disease in this age group is severe, and a targeted approach of immunizing college freshmen who live in dormitories may be the most efficient way to make an impact on meningococcal disease," Jay Wenger of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland wrote in an editorial accompanying the report.

Yet despite the possible benefits of required immunizations, according to Director of Dartmouth College Health Services John Turco, mandating the expensive vaccine could be problematic.

People who are immunized can still carry meningitis, he said in a previous interview. Also, the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the disease.

Meningococcus bacteria can cause meningitis (spinal column infection), bacteremia (blood infection), pneumonia (lung infection) and arthritis (joint infection). Symptoms of the bacterial infection include sudden high fever, chills, severe headache, stiff neck and back, painful joints, vomiting, extreme sleepiness, loss of consciousness, seizures and rashes.

Meningococcal bacteria are passed through intimate contact. The infection is spread through bacteria living in the throats of carriers, which make up a small percentage of the population. In rare instances the bacteria enter the bloodstream and cause illness.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!