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Released October 21, 1999
Contact: CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 6393286

ACIP modifies recommendations for meningitis vaccination

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has modified its guidelines for use of the polysaccharide meningococcal vaccine to prevent bacterial meningitis, particularly for college freshmen who live in dormitories, a group found to be at a modestly increased risk of meningococcal disease relative to other persons their age.

At its October 20, 1999 meeting, the ACIP, citing results of two CDC studies done in 1998 which identified the slightly higher risk among freshman dormitory residents, recommended that those who provide medical care to this group give information to students and their parents about meningococcal disease and the benefits of vaccination. Vaccination should be provided or made easily available to those freshmen who wish to reduce their risk of disease. Other undergraduate students wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease can also choose to be vaccinated.

The currently available vaccine protects against some types (serogroups) of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcus), an important cause of bacterial meningitis and sepsis in children and young adults in the United States. A single dose of the vaccine is recommended, and vaccination will decrease the risk of disease caused by N. meningitidis serogroups A, C, Y, and W-135. However, vaccination will not totally eliminate risk of the disease because the vaccine does not protect against serogroup B and because, although it is highly effective against serogroups C and Y, it still does not confer 100% protection against these serogroups. In 1998-1999, serogroups C and Y caused about 70% of cases among college students.

Approximately 3,000 cases of meningococcal disease occur each year in the United States, and 10%-13% of patients die despite receiving antibiotics early in the illness. Of those who survive, an additional 10% have severe aftereffects of the disease, including mental retardation, hearing loss and loss of limbs.

On September 30, 1997, the American College Health Association (ACHA), which represents about one-half of colleges with student health services in the United States, released a statement recommending that "college health services [take] a more proactive role in alerting students and their parents about the dangers of meningococcal disease" and that "college students consider vaccination against potentially fatal meningococcal disease." In early 1998, CDC initiated, in collaboration with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and ACHA's Vaccine Preventable Disease Task Force, two studies to better define the risk of meningococcal disease associated with college campuses. Both studies indicated that freshmen college students, particularly those who live in dormitories, constitute a group at a modestly increased risk for meningococcal disease.

More information on meningococcal disease, its symptoms, and the vaccine is available on the CDC website and the American College Health Association.

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