Students at several metro Atlanta colleges and technical schools will head back to class this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends they have a Meningitis B vaccine.
The bacteria the vaccine aims to prevent is called neisseria meningitidis, serogroup B. It can cause invasive meningococcal disease, which can lead to Meningitis and Septicemia (blood poisoning).
“[Meningitis B is] a very serious disease, although it is uncommon,” says Dr. Leonard Friedland, vice president and director of scientific affairs and public health at GSK Vaccines. “But when it occurs, anywhere from 10-15 percent of people will die from this illness.”
Friedland says of those who survive the Meningitis B, one in five can have lifelong complications, like seizures, blindness, and difficulty walking.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for teenagers as young as 16. The risk of contracting the illness is 3.5 times higher for college students than for people 18-24 years of age who don’t attend college. Some colleges have experienced outbreaks of the disease recently. None of them are in Georgia.
Friedland says the risk is higher for college students because the bacteria that causes Meningitis B spreads in crowded spaces. He says about 10 percent of young adults carry the bacteria in their noses. So, if they’re in a crowd, it can spread pretty easily.
“[It can spread] from coughing, from sneezing, from kissing, from sharing things, saliva,” Friedland says.
A handful of U.S. colleges now require students to get the vaccine. Some have dealt with outbreaks in the past. So far, Morehouse College is the only Georgia school that requires the Meningitis B vaccine. Friedland says ideally students should get the vaccine while they’re still in high school so they don’t have to worry about it once they get to college.
Correction: The bacteria the vaccine aims to prevent is neisseria meningitidis, serogroup B. The name of the bacteria has been updated.