Degree Not Disease

Can you believe that summer is almost over?  In a few short weeks millions of high school graduates will embark on a journey of education and newfound freedom as they begin their college careers.  I vividly remember my freshman year living in a cramped dorm room when a nasty little stomach virus made its way through the halls.  Living in such close quarters, there was no escaping the germs that had infested our building.  While stomach bugs and late night study sessions may be unavoidable, there is one thing that Texas college and university students will be protected against this fall, bacterial meningococcal disease (bacterial meningitis).

The Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), have helped to make Texas college campuses a safer place thanks to legislation requiring all entering students to show proof of an initial dose of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) or booster dose during the five-year period before enrolling. While it is important that adolescents receive all the vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this vaccine is especially important to college students who find themselves living in cramped quarters and attending packed classes.  Studies have shown that teens living in dorms are six time more likely to contract the highly contagious disease than those in the general population.  When you factor in a coed’s typically unhealthy lifestyle habits consisting of sleep deprivation, unbalanced nutrition, and exposure to alcohol the risk rises.  The disease which claims the lives of ten to thirteen percent of its victims can have life-long consequences as is the case with University of Texas student Jamie Schanbaum who recovered from the disease, but not before enduring months in the hospital, multiple amputations, and dozens of skin grafts to repair the damage that had been done.  While antibiotics are effective in treating the disease, early symptoms are so general (fever, malaise, rash, and stiff neck) they are commonly overlooked.  Just last year this vaccine-preventable disease caused the untimely death of Nicolis Williams.  Williams,  a student who lived off campus and attended my alma mater Texas A&M University, was misdiagnosed with influenza (flu) and tragically died four days later at the age of twenty.

Unfortunately the passage of this legislature comes too late for some but I am proud to say that Texas now leads the country as the first state to require universal vaccination for college admission.  It is an important step in the right direction and is an invaluable tool that will save countless lives.  A college student’s focus should be on obtaining a degree, not worrying about avoiding a deadly vaccine-preventable disease.

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