TCU Daily Skiff Wednesday, March 31, 2004
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Disease still has high risk factors
The university does not require vaccination for meningitis, although doctors recommend students get it.

By Liddy Serio
Staff Reporter

College students are increasingly at risk for meningitis and the risk is six times greater among students in dormitories, particularly freshmen.

And while there is a vaccine against the disease, it is not mandatory at TCU, although many doctors believe it should be.

“If my kids were college freshmen, I’d have them get the vaccine,” said Burton Schwartz, a doctor at the Health Center.

The vaccine, which is given daily at the Health Center, costs $85, which Schwartz said is considerably less than the average doctor charges for the vaccine.

“It’s about the best $85 a college freshman could spend,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said the vaccine is mandatory at Tulane University for students living on campus because there was an outbreak a few years ago and a student died from the disease.

TCU, like Southern Methodist University, Baylor and the University of North Texas, does not require the vaccine, but is required by the Texas Board of Health to inform students of potential dangers of meningitis.

Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said while the university recommends that students get the shot, the university leaves the choice to them.

“Do we wish that every student had it? Yes,” he said. “But we don’t have the mechanism necessary to verify that the students have it, and we feel that ultimately, it’s a family medical decision.”

Proshad Nemati, a sophomore biology major, said that while there are many deadly diseases for which vaccines are not required, this one is different because of the higher risk factor for college students.

“I think we should be required to get the vaccine because it is deadly and because college students have a higher risk of getting it,” Nemati said. “I don’t want TCU to have a similar experience to Tulane.”

Studies done by the American College Health Association show meningitis is increasing among college students. It is a rare but potentially deadly disease and is especially prevalent among college freshmen, the ACHA said.

Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the risk for bacterial meningitis is six times higher for freshmen living in dormitories than college students overall.

TCU requires incoming students to get a rubella vaccination and a skin test for TB, but many doctors believe the meningitis vaccine should also be a requirement because of the increased risk to freshmen.

Research data indicate exposure to passive and active smoking, bar patronage and excessive alcohol consumption may put college students at an increased risk.

Bacterial meningitis is highly contagious and is transferred by close contact, such as drinking from the same glass, sharing cigarettes, kissing or coughing.

Once the virus is spread, it can result in permanent brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, limb amputation, kidney failure or death. The bacterial disease is strongest in late winter and early spring.

Early symptoms of bacterial meningitis include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting and lethargy, and may resemble the flu.

The disease progresses rapidly, so a quick diagnosis is crucial in treatment.

Schwartz said the disease is very rare, but devastating.

“It’s not an everyday occurrence, thank God, but when it happens, it’s dramatic to the patient and the patient’s contacts, and it creates panic,” he said.

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