Dorm residents risk bacterial meningitis
May 25, 1999
Web posted at: 4:15 p.m. EDT (1944 GMT)
(CNN) -- College students who live on campus are three times more likely than those who live off campus to contract a specific type of bacterial meningitis, according to a study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The study evaluated cases of meningococcal infection, a major cause of bacterial meningitis, at colleges in Maryland from January 1992 through December 1997. In the five-year period, 14 students developed the meningococcal infection. One-third died from it.
Although meningitis is rare, it seems to be increasing in this age group.
In the general population there is about one case of meningococcal disease per 100,000 people, according to Dr. Bradley Perkins of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "In the college student age group, that rate is slightly increased at one-and-a-half to two cases per 100,000 population."
"There's been about a 50 percent increase since the early 1990s. We're not exactly sure why it's increasing, but there's been some information that's come out recently from studies on campuses in the Midwest," Dr. James Turner of the American College Health Association said.
The association recommends all college students consider meningococcal immunization to reduce their risk of infection. But neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended this vaccine for college students.
Many parents and students do not realize many cases of bacterial meningitis can be prevented with a vaccine that costs about $60.
Bacterial meningitis inflames the tissue and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal canal and causes flu-like symptoms -- headache, stiff neck and fever. It is spread through droplets in the air, which is why health officials suspect many aspects of college life increase this group's risk.
Living in crowded dorms, kissing and sharing drinks could all increase risk, researchers speculate.
Connections have also been found between binge drinking, smoking, stress and higher rates of meningitis, but researchers are not sure why there is a relationship. They hope to know by fall what specific factors put college students at increased risk.
On June 1, figures will be released detailing how many college students nationwide developed bacterial meningitis last year.
Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.
Journal of the American Medical Association
CDC - Bacterial Meningitis Fact Sheet
Mayo Clinic - Infectious bacterial meningitis
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