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James Turner, M.D., Can Provide Expert Opinion On CDC Recommendation About Meningococcal Disease

June 26, 2000 -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a recommendation that college students, particularly freshmen who live in dormitories, receive information about meningococcal disease and the potential benefits of vaccination. The CDC also recommended that those students wishing to reduce their risk of disease should have access to the vaccination. The recommendation will be published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on June 30.

A rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection, meningococcal disease can appear as either meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood stream. Meningococcal meningitis can lead to permanent neurologic disabilities, such as hearing loss, and meningoccemia can lead to kidney failure and amputations in up to 15-20 percent of survivors. Despite treatment, approximately 10-13 percent of those infected die each year. The disease requires early and aggressive treatment to prevent disabilities and death.

James C. Turner, M.D., director of the University of Virginia's Department of Student Health, has been leading a national effort to call attention to the public health danger of meningococcal disease and the vaccine that can protect against it. Turner, who is chair of the American College Health Association's (ACHA) Task Force on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, can offer expert opinion on today's recommendation.

The recommendation, he notes, follows an October 1999 recommendation by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The committee reviewed new information that demonstrates that college students, especially freshmen residing in dormitories, are at modestly increased risk of developing meningococcal disease. The currently available vaccine provides protection from four of the five most common strains of the bacteria that together account for more than 65-75 percent of the meningococcal cases on college campuses.

In recent years meningococcal disease has occurred with increasing frequency on campuses. Approximately 125 cases and 5-15 deaths occur annually among college students. Two episodes occurred on college campuses in Virginia this spring.

In 1999 the American College Health Association endorsed the ACIP recommendation. A joint CDC/ACHA study found that the rate of infection of meningococcal disease is higher among students who live in dormitories or residence halls. Living in close quarters likely promotes the spread of the bacteria among students, Turner said.

"Studies have shown that features of college life, which include smoking, socializing in bars, alcohol consumption, kissing, and upper respiratory infections, may contribute to college students' increased risk of contracting the disease," said Turner, who is director of the University of Virginia's Department of Student Health.

"The recommendation is a significant step toward decreasing individual risk for meningococcal disease and preventing the public health crisis associated with the infection on a college campus," Turner said.

He notes that nationwide about 470 colleges and universities will include meningococcal vaccination recommendations on pre-entrance health forms this fall. "Though a rare disease, widespread use of the vaccination could prevent more than 1,000 cases and 100 deaths among college students in the next decade," Turner said.

Last fall U.Va.'s student health department offered walk-in clinics to provide the vaccine against meningococcal disease. More than 4,000 students received the vaccine.

To help this year's entering students and their parents know about the dangers of meningococcal disease and the vaccine, U.Va.'s student health department is including the immunization recommendation on students' pre-entrance health forms. Turner is also presenting information about the disease and the vaccine during summer orientations for newly admitted students, and information will be available during the health resource fairs at orientation. In the fall the student health department will hold another day-long walk-in vaccination clinic.

For more information on the national picture or steps being taken to protect students at U.Va., contact Turner at (804) 924-2670 or via

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-7116

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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