It’s that time. Summer’s almost over, and the frosh are getting ready to enter college. Among shopping for new pillow cases and hoping your roomie isn’t too weird, don’t forget that all schools of higher education in Texas require a meningitis vaccine. It’s not just your school giving you more forms to confuse you; it’s actually the law here in Texas that you get and maintain your vaccination.
Don’t wait until the last minute, either. Vaccinations take 7-10 days to become effective, and most schools won’t let you register for classes before you have the vaccine, and it’s effective. That means you need to have it done at least ten days prior to registration, or you might get stuck registering too late and miss out on a lot of classes you want/need to take.
But why do the schools and the state care so much? What’s the big deal?
Meningitis is a disease that inflames the meninges, or the membranes that protect your central nervous system. It’s spread by the exchange of saliva (or throat secretions), and people who live in close quarters (hello quad dorm room!) are more likely to spread it. So say your not-too-weird roommate isn’t feeling great, and sneezes all over your toothbrush when he’s in the bathroom. There’s a perfect chance for transmission. Or you know how much you love washing dishes. Say you use a fork that’s not completely 100% home-dishwasher clean. Even sharing water bottles, food, or the best college pastime--kissing--can spread meningitis.
Symptoms of meningitis include:
- Rash or purple patches on skin
- Severe headache
- Light sensitivity
- Confusion and sleepiness
- Stiff neck
- High fever
Meningitis can be very nasty. You really don’t want to catch it. It could potentially cause hearing loss, blindness, coma, kidney failure, limb damage requiring amputation, convulsions, learning disabilities and even death.
But wait, we can fix everything with antibiotics, right?
Well, you can treat meningitis with antibiotics if it’s caught early. But that doesn’t guarantee a cure, while the vaccination is effective against 4 out of 5 of the most common bacterial types that cause meningitis. Vaccination is very safe, with little to no side effects in most patients. Even when caught early and treated with antibiotics, meningitis can still cause permanent disability or death.
It is possible to decline the vaccination if it will cause you medical problems or if your religion denies vaccinations. However, this can take a while. At Texas Tech, for example, they require a notarized affidavit and warn that it can take “a significant amount of time. Begin well in advance of your intended registration date.”
Yes, we have the vaccine! Walk in any day 8-8 to get your shot, and head on out to your close-quarters-sharing-water-bottles adventure!
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