As college students return home for winter break, they are being urged by health officials to visit their doctors and make sure they are up to date on their meningitis vaccines.
Three college campuses, including two in Southern California, have reported cases of the highly contagious, potentially deadly illness in recent months.
"Young adults should get vaccinated if they are living in college dorms or close quarters because the meningococcal disease is spread through prolonged close exposure and direct contact," said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two doses of meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra® or Menveo ®) for all adolescents at ages 11-12 and 16 years.
First-year college students living in dorms are recommended to receive at least one dose of vaccine before starting school. If only one dose of vaccine was given before age 16, an additional dose should be given before college enrollment, according to the Department of Public Health in Los Angeles County.
Meningococcal vaccines available in the U.S. protect against two of the three most common types of the disease due to serogroups A, C, Y, and W135, which account for about 73 percent of invasive meningococcal disease cases in the country.
However, those vaccines do not protect against serogroup B disease, the strain identified in the current outbreaks at Princeton University and UC San Barbara.
A serogroup B vaccine is licensed in Europe and Australia and is currently under review for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, health officials said.
Even though it has not been approved by the FDA, the serogroup B vaccine was administered to thousands of Princeton students earlier this month after the Ivy League school reported its eighth confirmed case of meningitis.
Two University of California campuses – Riverside and Santa Barbara – have also reported cases of meningitis.
A staff member at UC Riverside has been diagnosed with an active case of bacterial meningitis, the campus announced on Dec. 9.
The revelation out of Riverside came one week after an 18-year-old student at UC Santa Barbara had both of his feet amputated after he contracted meningitis in an outbreak that sickened at least three other students at his university.
More than 500 students on the Santa Barbara campus were provided with antibiotics to prevent the potentially deadly sickness from spreading, the school said.
Bacterial meningitis can be spread through kissing, coughing or prolonged contact. Symptoms can include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting.
It is vital that treatment be started as soon as possible and appropriate antibiotic treatment of the most common types of bacterial meningitis should reduce the risk of dying from the disease to below 15 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.