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YOUNGSTOWN Expert speaks on disease



Published: Thu, January 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



One vaccine injection at the beginning of the freshman year is good for four years in college.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Military personnel and those planning to travel to high-risk overseas destinations should receive the vaccine against meningococcal disease, and college dormitory students should be given the option of receiving it, an expert said.

Dr. Richard F. Jacobs, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Ark., made his comments Wednesday at Forum Health Northside Medical Center. The presentation aimed to give parents information on preventing the disease.

Meningococcal disease is referred to as meningococcemia when it infects the blood. When it progresses from the blood into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain, it becomes meningitis. The bacteria are harbored in the nose and throat, and symptoms are fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and a rash. Two West Branch High School students died, apparently of meningococcal disease, last Memorial Day weekend.

Who needs vaccination: Military personnel, who often live in close quarters in barracks and may be deployed to high-risk areas of the world, already are routinely given the vaccine, Dr. Jacobs said. Those planning to travel to certain areas of Africa and the Middle East should also get the vaccine, which protects against four strains of Nisseria meningitides -- the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease, he added.

Because of their crowded living quarters, dormitory students are the highest-risk group on campus and should be offered the vaccine, he said. Some colleges and universities require it for all students.

However, he said the cost of vaccine administration -- $75 at his hospital -- typically isn't covered by health insurance because state law doesn't require the vaccine. "You're going to have to bear the cost. But, if your child is going to live in the dorm and go to college, I can show you the data that would suggest that this vaccine could be beneficial," he told the audience.

Protection offered: The vaccine, given as a single injection, begins taking effect in about two weeks, and offers protection for several years, he said. One dose at the beginning of the freshman year is sufficient for a student's four years in college, he said.

When an actual case of meningococcal disease occurs, all members of the patient's household and (if the patient is in day care) all people in the patient's day care center, and anyone who has had close contact with the patient should receive antibiotics, he said. The antibiotics offer protection within a few hours after administration, he added.

When public health officials decide that there are enough cases to declare that an outbreak of the disease has occurred, they will recommend antibiotics or the vaccine for a wider population, he said.

Dr. Jacobs said he hopes a new and better vaccine can be developed. If tests show it's safe and effective for children under the age of 4 -- the highest-risk group -- he thinks it will be universally recommended for all infants, he said. The current vaccine hasn't been shown to be effective enough in children under 4 for him to recommend its universal administration to that group, he added.




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