College kids are coughing, kissing, and sharing drinks – so what?

Adolescence is marked by big steps and changes. While most changes are exciting, some, such as the transition into college, can increase teens’ risk for meningitis, a very dangerous illness. World Meningitis Day on April 24 builds awareness around this condition and the vaccine that can help prevent it.

Meningococcal meningitis is a type of bacterial meningitis that causes inflammation of the fluid and membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is very aggressive and can result in sepsis – a life-threatening blood infection, permanent disability and other severe complications.  The disease is transmitted through air droplets and direct contact with infected persons through coughing, kissing, sharing drinks, etc. Meningococcal meningitis is most commonly diagnosed among infants, adolescents and youth adults. It is especially significant among college students living in dormitories or close living quarters.

Meningococcal meningitis affects an average of 1,500 people each year in the U.S. It’s fatal to about 11 percent of those infected, and about 20 percent of survivors suffer long-term consequences including limb amputations, brain damage and hearing loss, according to the National Meningitis Association. A meningococcal vaccine is available and recommended for pre-teens and teens ages 11 to 19. A vaccine also is available for infants and children, but it is only recommended for those with certain medical conditions.

For optimum protection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adolescents receive an initial meningococcal vaccination at ages 11 to 12 and a booster dose at age 16.  If they did not receive the vaccine when they were younger, teens should still get the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that adolescents receive the vaccine less than five years before starting college. The meningococcal vaccine helps protect against four of five bacterial strains causing the majority of meningococcal meningitis cases worldwide.

“Protectiveness, especially with the booster, is really good,” said Janice Poirot, public health nurse at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

The meningococcal vaccine is advised but not required for teens heading to a Colorado state college or university (every state has different college vaccine requirements), though some private schools may mandate that incoming students get the vaccine.  Others recommended for meningococcal vaccination include younger children and adults with certain medical conditions, and military recruits. Travelers also may need to get the vaccine, especially if they will be visiting sub-Saharan Africa. Other immunizations recommended (but not required) for adolescents ages 11 to 19 include the hepatitis A and the human papillomavirus or HPV vaccines.

The Northwest Colorado VNA offers spring immunization clinics for fifth graders and high school seniors at schools in Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt County. Parent consent forms are sent home with students or in the mail prior to the clinics. Students can catch up on state-required vaccines and recommended optional vaccines at the clinics.  Drop in vaccination clinics for all ages are offered 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays at the Northwest Colorado VNA, 940 Central Park Dr., Suite 101. For more information, call 879-1632 or visit

For more information about meningococcal and other vaccine recommendations, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

By Tamera Manzanares
Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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