LOS ANGELES (Oct. 25, 1999)--An advisory committee for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week urged college freshmen to consider being vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis.
Moshe Arditi, M.D., the Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and an authority on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of bacterial infections, says meningococcal infection is a very dangerous situation that can kill within just a few hours.
"The bacteria travel through the bloodstream, frequently reaching the meninges, the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and causing the inflammation called meningitis. In other instances, the bacteria don't even have time to go that far, instead causing a fulminant blood infection, bringing about septic shock and shutting down the body's organs. This can occur very rapidly," says Dr. Arditi.
Although the bacterium that causes meningococcal infections -- Neisseria meningitidis - is easily passed through direct contact activities such as coughing, sneezing or kissing , many people carry it for days or weeks in the secretions of the nose and throat without getting sick. Even so, meningococcal meningitis appears to be an opportunistic disease, infecting people who live in close proximity.
In fact, the military began fighting the bacteria years ago, introducing the first vaccine in 1971 to prevent outbreaks among new recruits housed in crowded barracks. Today, the battle field is moving to the college campus. "It appears that the overall incidence of this problem in high school and college kids aged 17 and older has doubled in the last few years," says Dr. Arditi. "College students do not have an increased incidence of meningococcal disease compared to the general population, but students living on campus have a three-fold increased risk compared to those who live off campus."
While crowding may play a role in these statistics, it probably is not the only factor. "In some
Contact: Sandra Van
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center