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UA Campus Health Service encourages meningitis awareness

By Rachael Myer
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
December 7, 1999
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The UA Campus Health Service this week will send letters to students who live in residence halls to inform them about meningococcal meningitis, a disease that infects the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

The action follows a recommendation from a committee that provides advice to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended at its Oct. 20 meeting that college medical caregivers provide college freshmen with information about meningitis. College freshmen are at a slightly higher risk of contracting the disease because of their close living quarters, according to the CDC.

Dr. Harry McDermott, Campus Health Service assistant director of clinical services, said the letters are being sent out so students can discuss receiving a vaccine with their parents and family physicians during winter break.

"Overall, the basic picture is this is not a common disease in the college population," McDermott said.

But he said he wants students to consider receiving a vaccine and understanding the effects of the disease.

The letter recommends that University of Arizona students consider receiving a vaccine and also outlines statistical information about the disease.

Meningococcal meningitis, caused by a virus or bacteria, is an infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The bacterial form is more severe and can cause learning disabilities or mental retardation.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting and discomfort when looking into bright lights. The development of the symptoms varies between hours and two days.

Robb Garman, a spokesman for the Meningitis and Special Pathogens Branch of the CDC, said the disease has recently gained more attention in the press and by college health centers, but is not more prevalent than in previous years.

Garman said the vaccine for Neisseria meningitis - the organism that causes meningococcal meningitis - is 85 percent effective.

According to the CDC's Web site, about 3,000 meningococcal cases occur in the United States each year. Between 10 percent to 13 percent of those with the disease die, even if they received antibiotics early on in their treatment.

About 10 percent of those who survive suffer severe effects such as a loss of limbs, hearing or mental retardation, according to the Web site.

UA Campus Health Service reported an increase of students inquiring about meningococcal meningitis after ABC's 20/20, a prime-time news magazine, aired a story about the disease.

From September to November, the UA Campus Health Service has administered 288 meningococcal vaccinations. Normally, the center provides 15 to 20 vaccinations each semester to students who travel abroad.

The vaccine, as well as others often used in the United States, protects against two of the three strains found in the country - serogroups C and Y.

Marketing sophomore Sarah Kamin said she plans to receive the vaccine from her family physician during winter break.

"It's one of those things you think would never happen to you because initially it seems pretty far-fetched," Kamin said.

She suggested that letters be sent to all UA students, not just the ones living in residence halls.

"It seems like they should also do some for the general population of students," Kamin said.

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