Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Law Protects College Students from Meningitis

College students returning from holiday break this year must complete an assignment before classes begin. Due to a new law that went into effect Jan. 1, all Texas college students under 30 years old must get the meningococcal vaccine.

Meningococcal disease, better known as bacterial meningitis, is a potentially deadly infection that spreads through coughing and sneezing, sharing drinks or utensils, and kissing or other person-to-person contact, says Donald Murphey, MD, a Fort Worth infectious disease specialist. Meningitis strikes quickly, and college students are vulnerable to the disease because they come from different areas of the country — or even world — and live in close quarters. “Otherwise-healthy students can end up in a hospital intensive care unit with a severe bloodstream infection and meningitis in a matter of hours. I’ve seen patients lose fingers, toes, arms, and legs with this infection in the bloodstream,” says Dr. Murphey.

In 2008, Jamie Schanbaum, then a sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin, fell ill with what she thought was the flu. Hours later she was in the hospital for meningitis. Ultimately she lost most of her fingers and her lower legs to the disease. Jamie’s ordeal prompted a 2008 law requiring on-campus students to get the meningococcal vaccine. But after the death of Nicolis Williams, a Texas A&M student who lived off campus and contracted the disease last February, legislators expanded the law to include off-campus students.

To find out how to get the vaccine for yourself or your child, talk with your doctor.

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