The Mahoning Valley was made tragically aware of the dangers of meningitis this spring when two West Branch High School students, Jonathan Stauffer, 15, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, died within days of each other.
Now a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says those most susceptible to the disease are college students living in dormitories.
Dorm living seems to play an important role in the spread of the disease. The study reported that the overall incidence of the disease for undergraduates was 0.7 per 100,000 students, compared to 5.1 per 100,000 for freshmen in dorms. Freshman in dorms had a three times greater risk than all other college students of contracting the disease.
Scary numbers: If those numbers send a chill through any parent preparing to send his or her child off to a dormitory in a couple of weeks, they should. But the answer is not to avoid college or avoid dormitories. The answer comes in a hypodermic needle.
Researchers for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that most of the cases of undergraduate meningitis they recorded could have been avoided if the students had received vaccinations.
And as Dr. James Turner, chairman of the American College Health Association's Vaccine Preventable Disease Task Force, notes, the "$75 to $85 cost for the vaccine, which lasts four years, is about the same as for a good pair of tennis shoes."
Very few freshmen will be leaving for school without a pair of sneakers. None should go without a vaccination.
And none should go without some important words of advice from their parents regarding meningitis. Students must know to avoid risky behavior, especially sharing bottles, eating utensils and cigarettes. It's also spread through kissing.
And students should know the symptoms and be encouraged to seek treatment if they develop a fever, neck stiffness and headache. While most students are reluctant to admit that they're sick and may feel that they're too busy to go to a clinic, prompt treatment of meningitis could mean the difference between life and death.