Vaccine holds meningitis
cases to zero
By Kelly Casey
years ago, the University experienced an unusually large number
of cases of bacterial meningitis. Five students came down with
the rare and sometimes fatal disease, which most commonly strikes
college freshmen living in campus dormitories.
since U.Va. started vaccinating its incoming first-year students
against meningococcal bacteria in 1997 at the urging of
executive director Dr. James C. Turner there has not been
a single case of meningitis.
by the widespread panic the 1995 cases caused, Turner became a
crusader against the potentially preventable disease. His mission
over the past few years has been to spread the word among parents,
students and college health professionals nationwide that the
vaccine offers safe and effective protection against most strains
has been a regular featured expert in the national news
on NPR, ABC, CNN, Fox, the Washington Post and New York Times.
This month, he was featured on CBSs 48 Hours,
as well as a NOVA special that aired Sept. 3 on PBS.
who describes himself as shy, says he doesnt mind being
in the spotlight if it enables him to repeat a message that is
important to the health of the nations college students.
is something Im very passionate about. The meningococcal
vaccine, though not perfect, protects against a rare, but dreadful,
disease, he said, noting that 20 percent of meningitis patients
suffer serious permanent complications, such as an amputation
or kidney failure, and 5 to 15 percent die.
bacterium can cause meningococcal meningitis, which produces inflammation
of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Sometimes
these bacteria infect the bloodstream, which can lead to kidney
and heart failure. The bacteria are spread very easily through
direct contact with an infected person and even through the air
when a person sneezes or coughs.
states recently began requiring college students to be vaccinated
against meningococcal bacteria. Virginia students, however, can
sign a waiver not to be vaccinated after reading a fact sheet
on the disease.
the first year of the states vaccination requirement, 94
percent of our entering students elected to receive the vaccine,
Turner notes. Today, more than 9,000 of our 12,000 undergraduates
have been vaccinated. Five years ago, we had none vaccinated.
more than 2 million students have been vaccinated to date.