Meningitis case at OSU raises issue of vaccines
Shots not required of Ohio resident students
Wednesday, April 1, 2009 3:18 AM
By Encarnacion Pyle
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Ohio colleges since July 2005 have had to keep records of whether students living in residence halls have been vaccinated against meningitis and hepatitis B.
But the focus has been more on telling students where to find information about the illnesses rather than determining whether the campaign is working.
Some people would like the state to require that every student living at an Ohio college be vaccinated.
"I can't emphasize enough the importance of getting a vaccination for meningococcal, which is so deadly and can spread so rapidly," said Dr. Mysheika LeMaile-Williams, the medical director at Columbus Public Health.
An Ohio State University student is the most recent of 17 bacterial-meningitis cases in the state this year. Ohio State announced yesterday that the illness was diagnosed in the female student Monday morning. She was taken to the OSU Medical Center.
This is the first case of the contagious illness on the campus this year.
OSU spokesman Jim Lynch would not identify the student but said she is a resident of Patterson Hall.
He said people who had direct contact with the student have been notified so they can get a preventive antibiotic. Ohio State's spring break was last week, and the student was hospitalized before she attended classes Monday, Lynch said. People who were around her in Lorain County, where she spent spring break, also were notified.
Two Ohio University freshmen, including the son of Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, also contracted bacterial meningitis this year.
Bacterial meningitis infects the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord and can be fatal if it goes undetected and is not treated early. It is passed from person to person through saliva.
About 2,600 people in the United States catch bacterial meningitis each year. It can destroy organs and tissue within hours, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has recommended that children as young as 11 be vaccinated.
Common symptoms are a high fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms are confusion, nausea, a rash, sleepiness, vomiting and discomfort in bright light.
Ohio recorded about 40 cases of bacterial meningitis last year, according to the state Department of Health.
The state's colleges are required to ask students whether they have been vaccinated against meningitis and hepatitis B, a virus that affects the liver and is spread through contact with blood or other bodily fluids. But several schools said they use the records only when a student falls ill because the information is often incorrect or outdated.
About 5,000 students at Ohio State and 4,000 at OU have indicated that they have been vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, officials said.
Sen. Gary Cates, a West Chester Republican, has introduced a bill that would require all students living at an Ohio public university to be vaccinated, an effort that has failed in the past.
"It's a first step to better protecting our students," said Cates' legislative assistant, Sarah Spence.