Meningitis vaccinations urged
Infants, teenagers and college students are commonly afflicted by the flulike disease
Isle students heading to college for their freshman year are advised to be vaccinated for meningococcal meningitis, a contagious disease that spreads rapidly.
About 3,000 cases are reported annually in the nation, and from 10 percent to 12 percent of cases are fatal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 20 percent of survivors suffer brain damage, kidney disease, loss of hearing or loss of limbs, among other long-term consequences.
Lisa Mendez, chief of the state Health Department's immunization program, said meningitis has two peaks -- affecting infants under 1 year old and adolescents and young adults, 15 to 21.
Meningococcal vaccinations are recommended for university students living in close contact with others, especially freshmen in dormitories and residence halls, she said.
"This is an organism that only dwells in humans," she said, explaining it is carried in nasal passages. "You have to have direct contact with another human to acquire the organism."
Students can be exposed in bars, through active or passive smoking, irregular sleep patterns, lack of proper nutrition and sharing personal items.
Coughing and kissing are other routes for the bacteria.
Symptoms resemble the flu or other illnesses with minor fever and can include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, fatigue, confusion and discomfort looking into bright lights, the CDC said.
"It typically comes on so quickly and suddenly; the onset is pretty abrupt," Mendez said. "A person sick enough to end up in a doctor's office is often sent right away to emergency."
Untreated, it can lead within hours to shock, death or serious complications. "For those who survive it, it can be quite devastating," Mendez said.
A Louisiana State University student died Wednesday from meningitis, the Times-Picayune newspaper reported. Several outbreaks and a number of deaths have been reported on U.S. campuses in the past 10 years.
Mendez said Hawaii's reported meningitis cases have been relatively low, fewer than 10 a year since 2002 across different ages. Four cases have been reported so far this year, she said.
Vaccinations are not required for meningococcal meningitis, but the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends them for 11- to 12-year-olds, Mendez said.
Those who do not get the shots at that age should get them at age 15, before entering high school, or at 18 before going to college, she said.
Dede Howa, University of Hawaii health educator for the University Health Services, said all incoming freshmen living in campus residency halls should be vaccinated.
The vaccine is offered at the campus health clinic, 1710 East West Road. Most insurance covers the majority of the cost, she said.
A new meningitis vaccine, Menactra, was approved recently by the Food and Drug Administration, offering protection for up to eight years. The previous vaccine, Menomune, offers protection for three to five years, then requires a booster shot.
Both vaccines protect against four types of bacteria that account for about two-thirds of meningitis cases among college students, according to the University Health Services.