Student Health offers meningitis vaccine

GW students may have a slimmer chance than most college students of contracting a disease that claims college students, particularly frehmen, in its high-risk category, Student Health Director Isabel Goldenberg said.

Students can protect themselves against meningococcal disease, caused by bacterial or viral meningitis, by receiving vaccinations available through Student Health or a private physician.

Meningitis affects 3,000 Americans each year, said Tom Skinner, who works in the communications office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said 10 percent of all cases are fatal. Two high school students from Ohio died from the disease last month.

Goldenberg said GW has never seen a case of meningitis, which may be attributed to its urban setting.

“In most of the dorms you have private bathrooms, many of the rooms have their own kitchen,” Goldenberg said. “Somehow (at GW) there is naturally a distribution of students going to different places.”

Goldenberg said the University’s structural design, without large dining halls or student unions other universities have, may contribute to the few cases GW students report.

“I really don’t think there are many places students will socialize in large groups,” Goldenberg said. “It seems to me we have an environment as safe as can be.”

Goldenberg said Student Health still strongly recommends a meningitis vaccine for freshmen or students living in residence halls. GW has offered an immunization clinic in the fall since 1999 and plans to offer one in October, she said. Student Health vaccinated 2,000 students in 1999 and 450 in 2000, Goldenberg said.

“We do know that freshmen college students who live in dorms are at an increased risk,” Skinner said, citing factors such as stress and close proximity to others that contribute to the risk. “We want college freshmen to know there’s a safe and effective vaccine.”

Skinner said “anecdotal evidence” has shown alcohol and tobacco use can increase a person’s risk to contract the disease.

“In general freshmen students do engage in those behaviors more than older students,” Goldenberg said.

Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, headache and stiff neck, which can develop over several hours or take one to two days, according to the CDC Web site. The disease is highly contagious and spread through exchange of contact of oral fluids, such as coughing or kissing.

Local high school officials said the two high school students who died may have shared a water bottle at a picnic the month before, according to the Associated Press.

Goldenberg said if Student Health sees meningitis cases, the office will determine if it is an outbreak and possibly offer vaccination clinics sooner. She defined an outbreak as two reported cases of the same bacteria, indicating that the cases were related.

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