Freshmen Should be Vaccinated Against Meningitis

The Center for Disease Control highly commends the meningococcal vaccine for incoming freshman living in dormitories or close quarters.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is also referred to as spinal meningitis. Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but meningitis can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs.

The severity of illness and the treatment for meningitis differ depending on the cause. Thus, it is important to know the specific cause of meningitis. For example, bacterial meningitis is usually more severe than viral, fungal, or parasitic meningitis. Although it can be very serious, bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics that can prevent severe illness and reduce the spread of infection from person to person.

Should College Freshmen Receive the Vaccine?

College freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at a slightly increased risk for bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria (meningococcal disease) compared with other persons of the same age. As of 2009, a total of 34 states have adopted legislation requiring colleges to provide information on risks of meningococcal disease to incoming students and/or students residing on campus, and 15 states have mandated vaccination for certain students, unless a vaccination waiver is provided.

There are currently two vaccines licensed in the United States to protect against meningococcal meningitis. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has issued the following recommendations regarding the use of vaccines for college students.

  • Providers of medical care to incoming and current college freshmen who plan to or already live in dormitories and residence halls should inform these students and their parents about meningococcal disease and the benefits of vaccination. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) does not recommend that the level of increased risk among freshmen warrants any specific changes in living situations for freshmen.
  • College freshmen who want to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease should either be administered vaccine (by a doctor's office or student health service) or directed to a site where vaccine is available.
  • The risk for meningococcal disease among non-freshmen college students is similar to that for the general population. However, the vaccine is safe and effective and therefore can be provided to non-freshmen students who want to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease.
  • Colleges should inform incoming and/or current freshmen who plan to live or already live in dormitories or residence halls about meningococcal disease and the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

Students can obtain the meningococcal vaccine at the Student Health Center Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. The cost is $100 and is due at time of service. The cost is cheaper than at the Chatham County Health Department. Health insurance usually covers 100% of vaccines, but insurance companies do vary with their coverage. The student health center will give the student the proper paperwork to file directly with their insurance companies for direct reimbursement to the insurance holder.

Audrey Williby, ANP-BC
Armstrong State University Health Center