New vaccine may prevent common college illness

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    Drug makers have recently released an improved vaccine for bacterial meningitis, a disease threatening the lives of college students across the nation.Made by Aventis Pasteur, the MCV4, a conjugate vaccine with the trade name Menactra, should “produce a better immune response and provide longer protection than the previous vaccine,” said Dr. Erik Svenkerud, an epidemiologist in the infectious disease branch of the Texas State Health Department.

    Bacterial meningitis, or meningococcal disease, infects approximately 2,600 people a year and kills 10 to 15 percent of those, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

    Among those most at risk are college students, said Dr. Rhonda Keen-Payne, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. According to the CDC Web site, college students are more than six times more likely to contract it than the general population.

    Characterized by a sudden onset of a severe headache, neck pains and fever, meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria growth in spinal and brain fluids and leaves long-term effects such as paralysis, brain damage and seizures in 20 percent of its survivors, Keen-Payne said.

    Since the disease is spread through contaminated body fluids in the air and by direct contact, college students living in close quarters such as dormitories are at a high risk for contracting the disease, Keen-Payne said. The best way to control meningitis is to prevent it, Keen-Payne said.

    Previously, people received the MSPV4, a vaccine released in the 1970s, as infants. Svenkerud said MSPV4 provides about five years of protection.

    Keen-Payne said the MCV4, released in January 2005, should give lifetime immunity to a person unless he or she experiences a situation of abnormal circumstances, such as traveling or joining the military. The MCV4 is administered between the ages of 11 and 55 and is 90 percent effective.

    Even though the disease is somewhat difficult to contract and there have only been one or two cases of bacterial meningitis at TCU in recent years, Keen-Payne said she recommends the vaccine because of the severity of the illness and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

    While TCU does not require the vaccine for entering students, the vaccine is available at the Health Center and is payable by send-home bill or at the time of service, according to the Health Center Web site.

    Other ways to protect against bacterial meningitis include washing hands and not drinking after others, Keen-Payne said.