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All Texas College Students Need Meningitis Vaccine

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Protection
Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by a bacterium called neisseria. meningitidis or the meningococcus, pictured here under 1150x magnification.

A new state law passed by the 2011 Legislature requires any college student under 30 who attends classes on a Texas campus must be vaccinated against meningitis. Previously only students who lived on campus needed one.

Dr. Donald Murphey, a Fort Worth infectious disease specialist, advocated for the program approved by Governor Rick Perry in May, because he says meningococcal disease is a very serious issue.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can be caught from coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks and kissing. Living in dormitories and other shared spaces doesn't make the problem better.

The bacteria can manifest itself as bacterial meningitis or sepsis (infection of the blood stream). Both can become deadly in a matter of hours. One third of meningitis sufferers will be left with neurological problems afterwards, including seizures and paralysis. Sepsis can lead to kidney failure, lung failure, strokes or loss of limbs, fingers or toes.

As many as 15 college students die each year from meningitis with 1,500 cases being diagnosed annually. Texas had 341 cases of bacterial meningitis in 2007. Murphey says most college students have already been immunized. Many students were vaccinated during regular check-ups in their pre-teen years.

Kelsey Sheridan is a news intern at KUT. She currently studies religion and journalism at Northwestern University.