Those living in dorms are at high risk of contracting infectious disease because of close quarters, the director said.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Word of the outbreak of any potentially life-threatening disease automatically triggers the public's panic button, but a little prevention, in the form of vaccines, could eliminate the hysteria, particularly on college campuses.
"I'd like to see meningitis vaccines become a requirement for university students," said Len Perry, director of environmental health at Youngstown State University, during a meeting of the Mahoning County District Board of Health this week.
Last year, panic spread across campus on two occasions after two students began complaining of stiff necks and headaches, both symptoms of meningitis, he said. Neither student was infected, but fear spread nevertheless.
Students who live in college dormitories are at especially high risk because of the close quarters. Perry said students who live in dorms are three times as likely to contract meningitis as those who live in their own homes.
YSU's Student Health Services offers Menomune, the meningitis vaccine, as well as vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, diphtheria/tetanus, and hepatitis B to students, at cost, said Sue Ferrier, nurse supervisor. The Menomune protects students from four types of bacterial meningitis but not viral meningitis. The immunization is effective for up to five years.
Although new students routinely receive a letter informing them of the availability of the vaccines and other health services offered at the clinic, such as free TB tests and physician visits, few take advantage until there is an outbreak, Ferrier said. "Every time we have an outbreak, we have 10 to 20 students come in -- and that's a lot for a clinic this size."
In demand: In light of the recent meningitis outbreak, which claimed the lives of two area high school students, "we immunized 20 to 25 students in the last two months," Ferrier said. "That's more than we did the whole year before."
If university students were required to get the meningitis vaccine, it could be given on campus, said Diana M. Colaianni, director of the nursing division of the Mahoning County District Board of Health. Conducting a mass vaccine could be difficult now, however, because the manufacturer is limiting the number of doses health-care providers can buy each month because demand is so high, she noted.
Cost for the meningitis vaccine is $75. The hepatitis B vaccine, which consists of three injections over six months, costs $42 per injection or all three for $125. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine costs $40, and the diphtheria/tetanus vaccine is $10.