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Preview performance of the Huntington Theatre Company's James Joyce's The Dead, September 7, 8, and 9, at the BU Theatre

Vol. V No. 3   ·   31 August 2001 

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Student Health Services steps up meningitis education effort

By Hope Green

Fever, aches, nausea, fatigue: the symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can fool victims into thinking they have a cold or flu. Yet without quick diagnosis and treatment, meningitis poses a far greater health threat. This potent bacterial infection, while somewhat rare, can lead to brain damage, loss of limbs, or even death.

At a time when federal studies point to a growing frequency of meningitis outbreaks on college campuses, Boston University is taking new measures to educate students about the disease. On October 9, Vaccess Health of Clarks Summit, Pa., will run a six-hour immunization clinic at the Fuller Building, 808 Commonwealth Ave., offering a meningitis vaccination for $85 and a flu shot for $20. The staff of BU's Student Health Services (SHS) is preparing to send an informational pamphlet and follow-up letter to parents of all undergraduates and will notify students of the clinic by e-mail.

Since the health center began offering the meningitis vaccine, Menomune, two years ago, a modest number of students have requested it. But physician Julius W. Taylor, SHS director, hopes the one-day clinic will encourage thousands more to opt for inoculation.

"I'm recommending the vaccine," he says. "If every other person is vaccinated, it's very hard for an outbreak to get going." At BU there have been four cases of meningitis in the past 10 years, he says, and two of those victims nearly died. Taylor notes that the vaccine is very safe, with few known side effects other than some redness and swelling around the injection site.

Meningococcal meningitis causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Besides flulike symptoms, signs of the illness may include a stiff neck and a rash of small red spots. The disease spreads through close contact with an infected person, such as by kissing or sharing cigarettes or table utensils, or through sneezing and coughing.

Approximately 3,000 cases of meningococcal disease occur nationwide each year, resulting in 300 deaths, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While meningitis once was mainly an illness of early childhood, the risk to older children and adolescents has increased. The disease strikes an estimated 100 to 125 college students every year, resulting in 5 to 15 deaths, and the number of campus outbreaks appears to be on the rise.

During the past few years CDC research has indicated that college freshmen are particularly susceptible to meningitis. A recent study, which was published in the August 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the incidence rate among freshmen living in dormitories was more than seven times that of undergraduates overall.

Some researchers theorize that freshmen are more vulnerable because, like military recruits, they are suddenly adapting to crowded living conditions and new daily pressures. After a year or two in college they may develop an immunity, but it's important to note that not everyone does: a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education two years ago told of a junior at Georgia Southwestern University who died after fighting the infection for 26 days. Neither he nor his parents knew about the vaccine.

Both the CDC and the American College Health Association recommend that colleges inform their students about the risk of meningitis and make the vaccine available. Menomune protects 90 percent of adults studied against the four most common strains of meningococcal disease, according to a leaflet for parents supplied by Vaccess Health, and it is effective for three to five years.

The Vaccess Health meningitis and flu shot clinic will take place Tuesday, October 9, from 1 to 7 p.m. in the Fuller Building, 808 Commonwealth Ave., and is open to all undergraduate students. Vaccines are also available year-round at Student Health Services, 881 Commonwealth Ave., first floor west, 353-3575.

       

31 August 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations