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Meningitis vaccines considered for college students

Bozof died within a month of contracting bacterial meningitis  

October 20, 1999
Web posted at: 12:39 p.m. EDT (1639 GMT)

In this story:

College health group recommends meningitis shots

Students in dorms much more likely to get the illness

Two causes of meningitis


From CNN Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Evan Bozof was an active 20-year-old college junior at Georgia Southwestern State University at Americus, Georgia. He was an honors student in the pre-med program and a starting pitcher on the baseball team.

Then, in March of 1998, Bozof contracted bacterial meningitis, an infection of the fluid around the spinal cord and brain that causes flu-like symptoms, including high fever, headache and stiff neck. It's sometimes called spinal meningitis.

"We watched the gangrene eat up his fingers until they shriveled like dead leaves on a plant," said Lynn Bozof, Evan's mother.

Evan died within a month.

College health group recommends meningitis shots

The American College Health Association recommends that all college students receive the vaccine  

A vaccine that's already available can protect against most cases of meningitis. It costs about $60 and is 80 to 90 percent effective.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta meet Wednesday to discuss whether college students should be routinely vaccinated against bacterial meningitis.

The American College Health Association already recommends that all college students receive the vaccine. But, so far, there's been no government recommendation.

Students in dorms much more likely to get the illness

Although the disease is rare, studies suggest students who live in college dormitories, especially college freshmen, are up to six times more likely to get meningitis than students living off campus. Evan Bozof had lived in a dorm.

Although researchers say the illness is rare, the rate of meningitis appears to be on the rise for college students.

college students
Students who live in dorms rather than off campus are more likely to get the illness  

"There's been about a 50 percent increase since the early 1990s," said Dr. James Turner with the American College Health Association. "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."

Because meningitis is spread through droplets in the air, college lifestyle factors may be putting students at risk. Many students live in crowded conditions in dorms and are often under stress because of schoolwork. Smoking and drinking also may be factors.

In one of the latest campus outbreaks of the disease, a Michigan State University sophomore contracted bacterial meningitis earlier this month. That student was listed in critical condition at Lansing, Michigan's Sparrow Hospital on Sunday.

After that case, antibiotics were made available to more than 1,500 students at the school. Vaccines will be made available to other students, faculty and staff.

Two Michigan State students have died from meningitis since 1996.

Two causes of meningitis

Meningitis is caused by a virus or bacterium. Viral meningitis is usually less severe, but bacterial meningitis can result in brain damage, hearing loss and death.

College lifestyle may be a factor in the spread of meningitis  

Symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take one to two days.

Some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious. Health experts say it's spread through coughing or kissing, but not casual contact. Still, anyone who has been in direct contact with a patient's oral secretions would be considered at increased risk of getting the disease.

Bacterial meningitis is usually diagnosed with a spinal tap, a procedure where a sample of spinal fluid is extracted with a needle. The disease can be treated with antibiotics if it's caught early.

Dorm freshmen at highest meningitis risk, CDC says
June 1, 1999
Dorm residents risk bacterial meningitis
May 25, 1999

American College Health Association
Journal of the American Medical Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
     CDC - Bacterial Meningitis Fact Sheet
Mayo Clinic - Infectious bacterial meningitis
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