Thursday, July 20, 2017

Heads Up: Vaccine Required for College-Bound Students

As recent high-school graduates prepare to move into a college dorm, Texas physicians remind them to make sure their vaccinations are up to date, particularly one that is required for college admission. Texas law requires almost all new and transfer college students under age 22 to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease caused by the most common types of bacteria — or “serogroups” A,C,W, and Y — at least 10 days before classes begin.

“If your vaccinations are current according to medical recommendations, you likely received your first dose of the required vaccine at age 11 or 12 years because it is required for middle school entry, and then got a booster at age 16 to provide protection through college,” said Jane Siegel, MD, Corpus Christi, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and chair of the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Committee on Infectious Diseases.

Check your vaccination record to make sure you had the two shots, said Dr. Siegel, because colleges require entering students to show proof of vaccination within the previous five years.

“College students are at increased risk of meningococcal infection that can result in very serious disease, including meningitis, and that can spread among people who live in close quarters,” said Dr. Siegel, who is a member of TMA’s
Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel. “This germ is spread through respiratory tract secretions, so living in close quarters like a dormitory increases the likelihood of spread of this organism and is the reason for this mandate to cover meningococcal types A, C, W, and Y.”

Meningitis strikes alarmingly quickly with fever, headache, severe muscle aches, and stiff neck. The symptoms can seem like flu but progress with vomiting, weakness, mental confusion, shock, and sometimes a purple rash. Emergency medical care is important because this illness can become deadly within hours.

Types of meningococcal disease include infections of the brain’s lining and spinal cord (meningitis) and/or the bloodstream (bacteremia or septicemia). Bacterial meningitis is a common term. The meningococcus bacteria spread through coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks or eating utensils, or kissing.

Additionally, a relatively new vaccine can safely prevent infection caused by a different serotype of the meningococcus organism, serotype B. This vaccine against serotype B is not required at this time because the infection is relatively rare. However, outbreaks of this infection have occurred on a few college campuses in the United States. For that reason, physicians and other health experts recommend families with 16- to 23-year-olds discuss the meningococcal group B vaccine with their physicians to decide whether to get this vaccine too.

Meanwhile, a shot to prevent cancer

Another vaccination to consider, said Dr. Siegel, is human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine — a shot that can prevent cancers in men and women. “You may have gotten this vaccine at a younger age, but if not, start the three-dose series before heading to school, and complete the series at your college student health service,” she said. (Three doses are required if you get your first shot at age 15 years or older; only two doses are needed if you begin before age 15.)

Bottom line, she said, vaccines saves lives: “Immunizations are one of the 10 most important public health advancements of the 20th century. So, it is best to prevent what we can when safe and effective vaccines are available.”

Stay registered

Also, students who are 18 years of age should sign the consent form to keep their vaccination records in the Texas state registry. Having vaccine data in the registry allows adults to keep up with vaccinations throughout their lifetime.

“We know college students move around and participate in all kinds of special programs in the summer and throughout the year that require immunization records,” said Dr. Siegel. “Having the data available in the state registry is convenient and will allow you to get vaccine reports when you need them.”

TMA has published a fact sheet about the importance of meningococcal vaccination, in English and Spanish, as well as an infographic on HPV.

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