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Live in a dorm?  Better get your shot!
Live in a dorm? Better get your shot!

By Pat Nolan

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a recommendation for all colleges and universities. Get your students vaccinated against meningitis.

This is not a reaction to an outbreak, but more a preventative measure. The CDC hopes schools will put the word out and inform students - especially freshmen -- living in dorms about the risks of meningococcal disease. In addition to that, the hope is schools will offer students the vaccine to prevent meningitis - a disease that causes an inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

This news comes much too late for a student at Georgia Southwestern University. Junior, Evan Bozof, died last year after battling the disease for 26 days. In fact, in the 1998-99 school year, 83-college students were infected with meningitis. Six of those cases, including Bozof's, were fatal.

"My parents saw a story on 20/20, so they wanted me to go get the shot."

Southwest Missouri State University junior

"Those students may have died needlessly," says Burnie Snodgrass, director of Taylor Health Center at Southwest Missouri State University. "Meningitis can be life threatening or have serious after-effects." In this case, prevention is the best medicine, according to Snodgrass. The Menomune vaccine, which should be available at most campus health centers or at local hospitals (cost: $40 to $85) -- can protect against certain strains of meningitis.

In the last year, there has already been an increase in meningitis vaccinations. Taylor Health Center, at Southwest Missouri State University, has administered an average of four vaccinations a day this semester, which is up dramatically from the total of just five shots given last school year, according to Snodgrass.

Southwest Missouri State University junior Chris Stueve, got his Oct. 29. "My parents saw a story on 20/20," he explains, "So they wanted me to go get the shot." Stueve says he would not have gone to get the vaccination if his parents hadn't insisted on it.

The sooner you get the vaccination, the better, according to Betsy Cox, a registered nurse and co-coordinator of the treatment center at Taylor. Prevention is important, but reaction is also imperative if you become infected with meningitis, says Cox, because the illness moves very quickly throughout your body. "You'd start feeling pretty bad within a day."

Making the infection even more frightening is the fact that the symptoms are so similar to the flu. High fever, severe headache, neck and joint stiffness, lethargy, vomiting, adverse reaction to bright lights and a rash. Because of the similarity, you may mistake it for the bug -- not the serious and potentially deadly illness it really is - and do nothing about it.

Meningitis symptoms:

- High fever
- Severe headache
- Neck and joint
- stiffness
- Lethargy
- Vomiting
- Adverse reaction
- to bright lights
- Rash (looks like
- clusters of small
- pin pricks)

Cox says once you're infected, and you know it's more than the flu, you only have a matter of days to get treatment. Waiting could result in serious damage to your health. Brain and nerve damage, coma, loss of a limb, hearing loss or kidney failure.

If you and your doctor do catch it in time, there are different ways to treat different strains. Bacterial meningitis - which can be fatal - is treatable with antibiotics. As for viral meningitis... This form is much more common, and usually requires little or no treatment.

Now keep in mind, all forms of meningitis (bacterial and viral) are highly contagious. And although the vaccine protects the recipient from being infected by the microbe they're carrying, it does not protect them from spreading it to someone else.

Close to 200 colleges already recommend students be immunized, many of them going so far as to put advertisements in campus newspapers. But the hope is that the recent recommendation by the CDC will bring more colleges to that level of prevention.

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