New State Law: College Students Must Get Meningococcal Vaccine

For Immediate Release
July 13, 2010
 

 

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Texas college students have new protection against a potential killer.

A new Texas law may protect college students from a deadly disease that strikes young adults living in close quarters like dormitories. The physicians of the Texas Medical Association (TMA) are reminding college-age students they are required to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease before heading off to college this fall.

Jamie Schanbaum knows how bad meningococcal disease can be. She contracted it in 2008 while attending The University of Texas at Austin. She survived the disease and returned to her studies, but lost her legs and most of her fingers because of it. Named after her, the new "Jamie Schanbaum Act" requires new or transfer students entering college to get a meningococcal vaccine if they plan to live on campus.

"Meningococcal comes on quickly, with symptoms much like the flu, and can be fatal within 24 hours," says Donald Murphey, MD, a Fort Worth infectious disease specialist and advocate for TMA's  Be Wise ? Immunize SM vaccine program.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that spreads through coughing and sneezing, sharing drinks or utensils, and kissing or other person-to-person contact.

Meningococcal disease acts so quickly that about 11 percent of sufferers die from it, often within hours of the onset of symptoms ― even if they have begun to receive treatment. As many as 15 college students die each year from it. Each year, some 1,500 cases of meningococcal disease are diagnosed in the United States. In Texas, more than 50 cases of meningococcal disease were diagnosed in 2009.

The disease also can be devastating to its survivors.

"Otherwise healthy students can end up in a hospital intensive care unit with severe blood stream infection and meningitis in a matter of hours," says Dr. Murphey. "I've seen patients lose fingers, toes, arms, and legs with this infection in the bloodstream. Some patients suffering from meningitis are left with difficult lifetime disabilities."

Many who recover from meningococcal disease endure significant physical effects such as blindness, deafness, amputations, or brain or kidney damage.

College students are more at risk of the disease because of the close living quarters they share in college dormitories. One in seven of these students will die, according to the National Meningitis Association. The only other patient group at highest risk of contracting meningococcal disease is preschool children, doctors warn.

Yet meningococcal disease is preventable through vaccination. Doctors believe that as many as four out of five of the adolescents and young adults who contract the infection could have avoided it, had they been vaccinated. The meningococcal vaccine protects against four of the five common strains of the disease.

The new law requires college students to get the meningococcal vaccination at least 10 days before moving onto campus. And sooner is always better than later, doctors urge. "Building immunity takes some time, so it's better to get vaccinated now," explains Dr. Murphey. The new law, passed in 2009, took effect Jan. 1, 2010. This is the first year the meningococcal vaccination is required.

TMA is actively involved in improving immunization practices in Texas through its Be Wise - Immunize program. The program works to educate physicians and the public about current vaccination practices. Since the program began in 2004, Texas children have received more than 160,000 free or low-cost vaccinations. People can learn more about the program here . TMA's Be Wise - Immunize program is funded by the TMA Foundation, TMA's philanthropic arm.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing nearly 45,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA's key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. TMA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the association and raises funds to support the public health and science priority initiatives of TMA and the family of medicine.

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Last Updated On

May 06, 2016