Md. colleges require meningitis vaccine

The Maryland State General Assembly passed a law this summer-the first of its kind in the country-requiring all college students in the state to be vaccinated against meningitis.

Beginning this semester, all Maryland college students living in residence halls must get the vaccination or get out of school.

Meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection that strikes about 3,000 Americans each year and claims as many as 300 lives, the American College Health Association reported.

College students, especially freshmen living in residence halls, have a six-fold increased risk of exposure to the disease. Such activities as sharing cigarettes, kissing and drinking from the same glass as an infected person put students at high risk, ACHA officials added.

Some early symptoms of meningitis include a high fever, rash, vomiting, severe headache and sensitivity to light. Meningitis commonly occurs during the flu season and is easily mistaken for the virus.

"You have to come in contact with an infected person, you can't get it indirectly," AU Student Health Center Director Larry Payton said. "Meningitis is a rare occurrence. I'm assuming it's [their student population] dramatically larger than here, than our 11,000. My guess is, if it is a state school they are probably up around 40,000, and yet they had one case."

At the University of Maryland, if a student does not wish to receive the shot, he or she can fill out a wavier on the UMD Web site-but only if they do not live in university housing, officials said.

All students living in the campus-owned Fraternity Row and Graham Cracker chapter houses and residence halls must get the shot, officials added.

While AU does not require the vaccination, they follow the policy of the American College Health Association, which has adopted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The policy states that "college students, particularly freshmen living in dormitories and residence halls, be educated about meningococcal meningitis and the potential benefits of vaccination."

"A committee of the CDC gave the recommendation that university students need to be aware of the disease, need to be informed about the disease and be informed that there is a vaccine available," Payton said.

Although the vaccine is recommended to AU freshmen, some are unaware of the potential risk of meningitis. Nathan Erownback, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, has not been inoculated and had little knowledge of the disease and its potential risk.

"It's not a pressing concern to me, it probably should be, but it's good to know." Erownback said.

While some freshmen were not too concerned with the recommendation, Wallied Shorozi, a sophomore in the School of International Service, said, "I think for freshmen it should be mandatory because they're living in triples in such close quarters."

Drew Nickels, also a sophomore in SIS, learned about meningitis from watching an episode of 20/20, and got a vaccination at the Student Health Center.

"[Meningitis] is a very risky thing to get. Once you get it the gestation period is really short, and a lot of people are oblivious to what the symptoms are." Nickels said.

The vaccine is available at the student health center for $65, and according to the ACHS the body can be immune for three to five years. The two closest hospitals in the AU area, Sibley and Suburban, do not offer the inoculation, Payton said.

Presently there are no plans to require any colleges in the District to vaccinate its students, Payton added.

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