University health officials are strongly urging freshman to receive the meningococcal meningitis vaccine, which is being offered on campus this week.

Paul Wong
Nursing sophomore Lindsey Balzhiser gets a meningitis vaccine last week from Mary Mommoser of the Michigan Visiting Nurses. More clinics are offered this week.<br><br>DAVID KATZ/Daily

Though the University hasn”t seen a case of meningococcal meningitis since 1995, the death of 14-year-old Andrew Baker of Howell at University Hospitals on Saturday is believed to have been caused by meningitis, Livingston County Health Commission officials said.

Meningococcal meningitis appeared more frequently in college freshmen living in residence halls than any other group of college students, with an incidence rate of 5.1 per 100,000 compared to 1.7 per 100,000 among undergraduates, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that incoming college students should be educated and shown the benefits of receiving the meningococcal vaccine, which eliminates the risk of infection from certain bacterial strains. Still, most colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan, don”t mandate freshman to have the vaccination prior to living in residence halls.

“In general, people are oblivious to the disease, and they don”t panic unless they know someone with it,” LSA junior Bersabell Asaye said. “I got the vaccination before leaving for college just as a precaution. You always want to be safe.”

Walk-in clinics, run by the Michigan Visiting Nurses Association, offer the vaccine for $75 dollars, which is less than the average price of $75 to $90 per shot.

Vaccine manufacturers are currently dealing with a shortage of single does vials, forcing clinics and private practices to buy multi-use vials at a cost of $600 each, which contain 10 doses and must be used in a timely fashion.

University Health Service interim Director Robert Winfield said he sees no cause for alarm over the disease, which is characterized by an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord linings.

Potential risk factors include living in close quarters, recent upper respiratory infection, smoking, lack of sleep and poor nutrition. Symptoms include rash, nausea or vomiting, headache and exhaustion, much like symptoms of the flu.

“In the fall, there is an outbreak of viral meningitis because of people returning to closed rooms and such,” University Hospitals chief neurologist Sid Gilman said. “Students need to know that if they discover a fever and stiff neck, they need to seek medical attention immediately.”

“The faster the treatment can be given, the more promptly it can be fixed,” Gilman added. “We want to see people early and institute treatment.”

With proper diagnosis and treatment, people can fully recover from most forms of viral and bacterial meningitis. Though viral meningitis, which is a much less serious form of the disease, cannot be treated with antibiotics, it typically lasts from seven to 10 days with full recovery.

Bacterial meningitis is a much more serious condition, especially a rare form called meningococcal, which can infect the blood and lead to rapid death if untreated. Annually, meningococcal disease strikes about one out of every 100,000 people in the general U.S. population and 3.8 per 100,000 students living in residence halls.

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