College Kids Need Vaccinations Too
Most parents are familiar with the need to immunize young children to protect against a variety of diseases including polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). As summer wanes and families prepare for a new school year, parents should consider immunizing their older children as well -- especially for meningitis.
As noted by Dr. Peter N. Wenger of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, “Children who are preparing for their freshman year in a dormitory are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis.”
Meningitis is a serious inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and the spinal cord. It’s caused most often by infection (bacteria, viruses or fungi), but can be caused by cancer, immune system disorders and responses to chemotherapy and some chemical agents. It can lead to permanent disability or death.
Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s fatal for 10 to 14 of 100 cases. Nearly 20 in 100 survivors suffer brain damage, amputation or kidney failure.
Of the approximately 2,600 otherwise healthy people stricken every year with meningitis, teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk.
Meningitis is not as contagious as the flu or the common cold, but populations such as dormitory residents are at greater risk because it spreads through the exchange of respiratory or throat secretions—coughing and kissing. Crowded living conditions and the sharing of utensils, drinking glasses and cigarettes contribute to a welcome environment for these microbes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all first-year college students receive the meningitis vaccine. It’s safe, highly effective and confers 3 to 5 years of protection. Many states require that all incoming students living on college campuses either have a vaccination or sign a waiver stating they choose not to be vaccinated for this disease.
If your college-age child isn’t able to be vaccinated before heading off to school, one of his or her first stops on campus should be the student health center. Wenger recommends that college students also consider these vaccines:
- HPV (human papilloma virus), which protects against the viruses that cause most cervical cancers, anal cancer, and genital warts;
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), which is given as a one-time dose to adolescents and adults;
- hepatitis A, which protects against the serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver;
- annual immunization against influenza;
- any vaccines not offered when the child was an infant, such as varicella (chickenpox), if the child has not acquired wild-type chickenpox.
To review childhood immunizations recommended by the CDC, click here. For information about vaccinations for adults, see my newsletter story, “Vaccines: The Neglected Shot of Prevention.”
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