This past year, the Kansas Board of Education decided to require a meningoccol vaccine for the state universities. It would have excluded Washburn, but our Board of Regents agreed to its own requirements for the vaccination.
Starting Aug. 1, all residents of Washburn’s dorms will be required to get a meningoccal vaccine. The vaccinations help prevent meningitis and have always been recommended to all college freshmen. Fraternities and sororities are excluded from the new rules, because they own their own houses. But they are highly encouraged to develop their own policy requirements about the vaccination. Denise Ottinger, vice president of student life, said those students living in residence halls can either get the vaccination somewhere else or at the Student Health center or they can sign a waiver and opt to not get the shot.
Meningitis bacterium live in the mouth and throat. Usually, the body has defenses to keep the bacteria from infecting the brain and spinal cord fluids. When this defense is down, they multiply. This causes the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord to get swollen and inflamed. It’s most common in infants and children.
There are two different types of meningitis, viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. Viral meningitis is less harmful and can generally go away with antibiotics, sometimes even by itself.
Bacterial meningitis is more deadly. One out of five people die after contracting the disease. Doctors will need to know which type the student has to correctly treat it.
People who survive the disease can have long-term effects, like amputations, hearing loss, seizures and brain damage.
“Meningitis is a horrible disease and can hit so fast, by the time you know what it is, it’s too late,” said Iris Gonzalez, director of Student Health services.
The most common source for bacterial meningitis before the 1990s was Haemophilus influenza type B. New vaccinations have made streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitis the new leading causes for the illness.
Symptoms of meningitis, at first, can resemble a cold or flu. These symptoms can develop between a few hours to a couple of days. The common symptoms are high fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitive eyes, confusion and sleepiness in anyone over two years old. Seizures can occur in the advanced stages of meningitis.
To have maximum effect, treatment must be given early. Spinal taps, where doctors insert a needle into the lower back to remove fluid for testing, is the method for diagnosis. Antibiotics are used to treat meningitis. Using these antibiotics reduce the risk of dying to below 15 percent.
Keep in mind that meningitis is contagious-kissing, sharing drinks, sharing cigarettes and even second hand smoke have been known to infect people. It can, but not often, also be spread through the air from people coughing and sneezing. However, it’s not as contagious as a cold or flu. In fact, meningitis is rare in the United States, usually happening in isolated instances. It is still a problem for schools. There have been a few cases of meningitis around the state in recent years, although none of them have happened at Washburn.
“We strongly encourage all Greek housing students and athletes to get vaccinated,” said Ottinger.
Students can pick one of two vaccinations. The MPS4 can last for two to three years and cost $65. Or the MCV4, which is more highly recommended, last for five to seven years and cost $85. Neither one of these shots have major side effects. There is another option though, a waiver, which will become available soon in the student health part of Washburn’s Web site. The waiver basically says that the student is aware of the risks they are taking by not getting vaccinated, but still choose not to get the shot.