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needleU.Va. Launches Immunization Program to Guard Students Against Meningitis and Flu

Oct. 21, 1999 -- To protect students from meningitis, a serious and potentially fatal disease, as well as the miseries of the flu, the University of Virginia will offer an immunization program next week.

U.Va.'s Department of Student Health will offer both meningitis and flu vaccines on Tuesday, Oct. 26, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The walk-in sessions will be held at two locations, the Aquatic and Fitness Center and Newcomb Hall Ballroom.

Last year more than 500 students were treated for flu at the student health department, according to Dr. James C. Turner, director of the department, who chairs the American College Health Association's task force on vaccine-preventable diseases. Many students miss classes and exams, and a few suffer complications, such as pneumonia or ear infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that college students receive flu vaccines.

Meningococcal meningitis affects the brain and spinal cord and can lead to permanent disabilities, such as hearing loss and brain damage. A blood infection, meningococcemia, can lead to kidney and heart failure and also result in severe disability and death. The disease requires early and aggressive treatment to prevent disabilities. Despite treatment, approximately 10 percent of those infected die each year.

Although still a rare disease, the number of meningitis cases nationwide has risen in recent years. Outbreaks on college campuses have increased during the 1990s.

The CDC reports that freshmen living in dormitories are five times more likely to develop meningitis than college students in general. More than 600 cases among people aged 15 to 24 were reported in 1996, twice as many as a decade ago.

Because of this trend, the American College Health Association (ACHA), which represents about half of the nation's college health centers, recommends that college students receive the meningitis vaccine. In addition, on Oct. 20 the CDC recommended that college students, especially freshmen residing in dormitories, consider getting the vaccine. The vaccine protects against four of the five most common strains of the bacteria that together account for more than 65 percent of the meningococcal cases on college campuses.

The bacterium causing meningitis is common and can be spread by sneezing, coughing, kissing, and sharing drinking glasses, cooking utensils or cigarettes. College students appear to be particularly susceptible to the disease because they live, study and socialize in close quarters, such as dormitories.

"Features of college life, which may include smoking, socializing in bars, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and frequent upper respiratory infections, may contribute to college students contracting the disease," Turner said.

"Although we've been recommending both vaccines for more than two years, we wanted to take a more aggressive approach toward protecting U.Va. students by conducting a vaccine program," said Turner, who has mailed letters about the immunizations to parents of undergraduates, faculty and departments across grounds. The letters contain information sheets answering frequently asked questions about meningococcal meningitis.

Meningitis cases have occurred recently in the Northern Virginia-Maryland-Washington, D.C., area. Although there have been no recent cases at U.Va., five occurred during the 1995-96 school year.

The student health department is promoting the immunization program through ads, posters and mass e-mails.

Cost of the meningococcal vaccine for students is $70; the flu vaccine is $15.

To obtain more information, contact U.Va.'s student health department at (804) 924-5362.

For more information, contact James Turner at (804) 924-2670 or

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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