For Immediate Release
July 22, 2011
Contact: Pam Udall
phone: (512) 370-1382
cell: (512) 413-6807
phone: (512) 370-1381
cell: (512) 656-7320
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As Texas students prepare for college, it’s critical they get vaccinated against meningococcal disease — more commonly called bacterial meningitis, says Donald Murphey, MD, a Fort Worth infectious disease specialist and advocate for the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Be Wise — ImmunizeSM vaccine program. “It might just save their life.”
A new, stronger state law requires any college student who lives on or off campus in Texas to get the meningitis vaccine. It applies to students under age 30 who will attend classes on campus.
“We’re getting the word out now, because new college students will not be able to attend school if they don’t receive the vaccine,” says Dr. Murphey.
College students especially are vulnerable to the disease because new students are coming together from different places and share close living quarters. The only other patient group at a higher risk of contracting meningococcal disease is preschool children, doctors note.
Meningococcal disease is a deadly bacterial infection that spreads through coughing and sneezing, sharing drinks or utensils, and kissing or other person-to-person contact.
Symptoms of the disease show up initially as the flu. However, the disease spreads so quickly that about 10 percent of sufferers die from it, often within hours of the onset of symptoms ― even if they have begun to receive treatment. The threat is greater in adolescents and young adults. As many as 15 college students die each year from meningitis. Some 1,500 cases of meningococcal disease are diagnosed annually in the United States. Texas had 341 confirmed cases of bacterial meningitis in 2007 (patients of all ages).
The disease also can be devastating to its survivors. “Otherwise-healthy students can end up in a hospital intensive care unit with severe bloodstream 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.” Many who recover from meningococcal disease also endure blindness, deafness, or brain or kidney damage.
Jamie Schanbaum suffered similar effects. She contracted the disease in 2008 while attending The University of Texas. She survived but spent more than six months in the hospital. Ultimately she lost her legs and most of her fingers because of the disease.
Two years ago, the Texas Legislature passed the first Jamie Schanbaum Act, requiring new or transfer students planning to live on campus to get a meningococcal vaccine. This year legislators strengthened the law by requiring students who live off campus to be vaccinated as well. The move was prompted by the death of Nicolis Williams in February. Mr. Williams was a Texas A&M student who lived off campus and contracted the disease. Because he lived off campus, current Texas law did not require him to be vaccinated, and he was unprotected. The new law is named the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act in honor of Jamie and in memory of Nicolis.
The good news is that 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.
Patsy Schanbaum, Jamie’s mother, likens the disease to a hurricane: “It comes and does all this damage, and we’re left to clean it up. Few people know the devastating effects of meningitis like our family does. It’s frightening.”
“The best thing anyone can do to avoid contacting meningitis or any other infectious disease is to ensure their vaccinations are up to date,” adds Dr. Murphey.
TMA actively works to improve immunization rates in Texas through its Be Wise — Immunize program. Be Wise works with local communities to give free and low-cost shots to Texas children and adolescents, and educate people about the importance of vaccination. TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 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’s Be Wise — Immunize program is funded by the TMA Foundation, TMA’s philanthropic arm.
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TMA’s Be Wise — Immunize program is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.