Fisherman may be at risk for meningitis

Jacqui Becker

As freshmen and new students settle into residence halls and greek houses at Iowa State, the risk of catching meningitis increases, Student Health Center officials said. Health officials encourage all new students to get a meningitis immunization shot to prevent against the disease that potentially could be fatal. “Freshmen and incoming students have an increased risk of meningitis because of the close confinement that they live in and the behaviors they tend to do,” said Brian Dunn, health promotions coordinator in Prevention Education Outreach at the Student Health Center. Some of these behaviors include smoking, being exposed to smoking at bars and consuming alcohol. Meningitis is an infection that results in the swelling of the fluid membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, Dunn said. There are two main strains of the disease – viral and bacterial. Bacterial is more severe and can cause lasting damage to the nervous system or can even become fatal. From 1991 to 1996 the number of meningitis cases in 15 to 24 year olds doubled, according to statistics from Dunn. He said the Student Health Center vaccinations increased from 17 last year to 224 between July 1999 and June 2000. Since July 1, 22 people have received the immunization, said Diane Smith, Student Health Center office coordinator. Dunn said Student Health Center officials talked to students and their parents at orientation to inform them of the importance of receiving the meningitis vaccination. “We try to hit freshmen, but all students are at an increased risk,” he said. Nate Pritchard, freshman in psychology, said his mother is urging him to get the vaccination. “It’s not going to hurt me any,” he said. “It’s only going to help.” Molly Weber, freshman in animal science, isn’t convinced. She said she’s needle-phobic and doesn’t plan on getting the shot. “If there’s an outbreak, I’ll get one, but currently there are no reported cases,” she said. The Student Health Center vaccinates against bacterial meningitis, which gives immunity for about four years. “After that, chances of contracting the infection reduce dramatically when you leave the college setting,” Dunn said. Immunization shots are $77. Those interested in getting the vaccination can make an appointment at the Student Health Center. The vaccination is not 100 percent effective.