When your child first packs up and heads off for college, it is a bittersweet moment. How horrible if meningitis were to make the separation permanent. The first year is the critical time. Freshmen living in dormitories are at the greatest risk — more than 7 times higher than undergraduates in general — according to a study in the August 8, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association JAMA).
In another study in the same issue, researchers found that meningococcal infection, though still uncommon, increased substantially among 15 through 24-year-olds during the 1990s.
Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection of membranes around the brain and spinal cord that can be spread by kissing or sharing food, beverages, or utensils. Eating or sleeping in the same dwelling can be enough to spread the disease. Perhaps the rate of infection drops off after freshman year because older students are less crowded or because they have developed some immunity.
In December 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that doctors alert all families with a child heading off to college about the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. The American College Health Association goes further and recommends that college students have the vaccine.
Rather than waiting for your doctor to bring it up, ask about the vaccine at your next visit. While some vaccines target other types of meningitis (pneumococcal, Hib), Menomune, the meningococcal vaccine, can prevent meningococcal meningitis.
I had the Menomune vaccine this year before traveling to a country where the disease is more common. It’s a vaccine that I want for my children before they live in a dorm.