Apr 102005
Authors: Hallie Woods

For those who think that meningitis only affects college students – think again.

A new vaccine is arriving on the medical market that will allow those as young as middle school-aged children to become immunized from the disease and still be protected from meningitis into their college years.

The new immunization, Menactra, will hopefully replace the current Menomune vaccination within the next few years.

"The (medical community) was looking for something to start early that would cover kids through their college years," said Lisa Duggan, immunizations coordinator/infection control for Hartshorn Health Service.

Meningococcal Disease, also known as meningitis, is a severe viral or bacterial infection that causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms are similar to signs of the flu, which includes headache, fever, stiff neck, rash and fatigue. Meningitis is common among college residence halls, as well as in the military where close quarters are an issue.

A CSU freshman student living in Westfall Hall was diagnosed with Meningococcal meningitis on March 25 and was hospitalized for three days. Other residents on the floor were informed of the diagnosis and three were treated for the disease with an antibiotic after coming into close contact with the student, who was not identified.

Duggan said the disease can be dangerous, because people often write the disease off as the flu and do not seek treatment.

"If you're an unfortunate one who doesn't get caught early, the side effects can be disastrous," said Paul Poduska, infection control coordinator for Poudre Valley Hospital.

Meningitis comes in two forms: viral and bacterial. Duggan said viral has no treatment, but the symptoms are less severe and the disease usually isn't fatal. Someone can be exposed to the viral form and still only have a one-in-one-thousand chance of getting it.

"Occasionally we will see viral meningitis on campus," Duggan said. "But people do not progress into the serious outcomes the bacterial form causes."

Bacterial Meningitis can occur in five strains, or sera groups, and is treatable but dangerous. The current vaccine, Menomune, protects against four of the five strains and lasts for three to five years.

However, the latest Menactra vaccine will continue to protect its receivers for at least six years, allowing children to possibly be guarded against the disease through middle school, high school and college. The vaccine is also safe, having the same side effects as Menomune.

For some students, a new vaccine seems beneficial for themselves as well as the younger population.

"I think it's a good idea to give the vaccine to younger kids because their risk will increase as they get older," said Josh Egbert, a junior technical journalism major. "I would get it because with all the meningitis on college campuses, I would rather be safe than sorry."

The vaccine is being administered to health professionals and technicians at Poudre Valley Hospital who are exposed to the disease in the workplace. The new vaccine will be making its debut in family practices, as well as Hartshorn, within the next few weeks. The cost of Menactra is $100 versus the $80 Menomune vaccine.

"If you're going to vaccinate someone," Poduska said, "Why not use the best?"

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