A message from our Medical Director
Dear Parent and Student:
I am writing to encourage you to make sure that your child is vaccinated against meningococcal disease, including meningitis. This is a potentially serious health hazard facing college students, and particularly first year students living in residence halls.
As the parent of a college student, you should be aware that, although the risk is very low, outbreaks of meningitis and blood infections due to the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis have occurred on college campuses in recent years. Studies from previous college outbreaks suggest that college students are more susceptible because they live and work in close proximity to each other in residence halls and classrooms. Lifestyle appears to be a risk factor as well, with exposure to active and passive smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and bar patronage all increasing the chance that one will contract meningitis from an infected individual.
Meningitis is a serious and potentially fatal disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and can lead to permanent disabilities, such as hearing loss and brain damage. Meningococcemia (blood infection) can lead to kidney and heart failure and also result in severe disability and death.
There is, however, a safe, effective vaccine that can provide protection against four out of five strains of meningococcal disease, which together account for over 62% of meningococcal cases on campus. Because outbreaks are clustered in time, and because onset of symptoms is extremely rapid, it makes sense for students to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease with a vaccination before an outbreak occurs.
That is why the American College Health Association strongly recommends that college students be vaccinated to reduce their risk for potentially fatal meningococcal disease. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control now recommends that the meningococcal vaccine be part of a child’s routine immunizations at the age of 11-12. If your child has not already received this vaccine, the college entrance history and physical examination provides an ideal opportunity to discuss this with the health care provider. You should also be aware that there is a recent, new recommendation that first year college students living in residence halls get a second meningococcal vaccination if it has been 5 years or more since the first one. Ideally the vaccination would be done before he or she comes to campus, but we do have the vaccine available at our Health Service. An appointment can be scheduled with a nurse by calling (603) 862-2856.
Adverse reactions are mild and infrequent, consisting primarily of redness and swelling at the site of the injection lasting up to two days. Vaccination should be deferred during any acute illness. The vaccine should not be administered to pregnant women or individuals sensitive to any components of the vaccine.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I hope your son or daughter has a safe and healthy experience at UNH.
Gladi V. Porsche, M.D.
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