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Published on July 30, 2018

College bound? Don’t forget this

College bound? Don’t forget this

The “to-do” list for your college-bound freshman may seem endless, but there is one very important item you may want to include that could save your teen’s life: the Serogroup B meningitis vaccination.

Meningococcal disease (one type of bacterial meningitis) has a quick onset and a quick demise,” said Leif Norenberg, MD, a Cape Cod Hospital pediatrician. “You have to get medical attention pretty fast to survive (approximately 10 percent of these patients die) and even at that, there’s no guarantee you will fully recover.”

In 2015, there were approximately 375 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States and, while the numbers are declining overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does note there have been outbreaks of Serogroup B meningitis on college campuses over the past several years.

The disease is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterium that infects the protective membranes (meninges) of the brain and spinal cord, causing them to become inflamed. Hearing loss, brain damage, kidney damage, loss of limbs are some of the possible effects of the disease, according to the CDC.

It spreads through close contact, including kissing, coughing, sharing of water bottles or other drink containers, and living in close contact with others, such as in a dormitory.

The symptoms of meningococcal disease, according to Dr. Norenberg and the CDC, include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Photophobia (eyes are more sensitive to light)
  • Petechial rash (tiny, red, pinpoint spots)
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion

Types of bacteria

According to the CDC, there are 12 types of Neisseria meningitidis bacteria and they are identified by the subgroups such as A, B, C, W and Y. The original meningococcal vaccines (Menactra and Menveo) cover subgroups A,C, W, Y, and are usually given at age 11 and then again at 16-18.

While your teen would be covered if subgroups C or Y caused the outbreak, they would not be covered for subgroup B unless they’ve received what is known as the Serogroup B vaccine.

There are two Serogroup B vaccines:

  • Bexsero: two doses given one month apart.
  • Trumenba: three doses, including an initial dose, a second dose two months later and third dose after six months.

There are no current plans to try to combine these different vaccines, according to Dr. Norenberg.

“We chose Bexsero in our practice because we can give two doses one month or more apart the summer before starting college,” said Dr. Norenberg. “It’s pretty easy to get the two doses in and that way they are covered and the immunity from this vaccine should last through college and even graduate school.”

The vaccine is given in the upper arm and can cause some pain and discomfort at the site of the injection, according to Dr. Norenberg.

“It’s a small price to pay to get really good coverage against Serotype B meningitis,” he said.