February 18, 2003
Americus-The way college students live makes them more likely to get a deadly disease they often know little about.
"More students know about the common cold or the flu," said Keshia Jackson, a graduate student at Georgia Southwestern University. "They don't know about meningitis unless it happened on their campus."
Students who live in dorms are six times more likely to get meningitis than the rest of us. It's linked to college behavior like not getting enough sleep, not eating right, close contact and even sharing utensils.
"When the body is under a lot of stress, you're immune system is not working adequately like it should," said Monica Taylor, GSW's Director of Health Services.
Meningitis makes the brain and spinal cord swell, and if not detected early, can cause death. Now some state lawmakers want to protect students by making them get the vaccine. There are similar laws in 15 other states.
"It's no different than the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines that we currently require students to have," Taylor said.
Meningitis struck at GSW in 1998 when one of the baseball players, Evan Bozof, died of the disease. Still, many students don't know about the vaccination or don't want to pay for it.
At GSW, the cost is 56 dollars.
"That's a whole lot of money for a college student, at least for me," said Josh New, a senior in mathematics.
In the health clinic, students can put the price of the small, but often life-saving shot on their student account and pay for it over time. But still, only 35 students and faculty have taken advantage of the vaccine this school year.
It's not for lack of trying on the part of school officials. There are letters to students, pamphlets, newspaper articles and special clinics.
"We put the information out there for them, but most choose to outweigh the risk versus the benefit," Taylor said.
But if it comes down to life or death, then most students say they would come up with the money.
"I guess if it's going to prevent disease or illness, it would be worth it," said freshman Jason Campbell.
The meningitis bill could come up for a vote in a House sub-committee next week. If it passes, it would likely go before the full Higher Education Committee the following week.
posted Feb. 18 at 11:50 p.m. by firstname.lastname@example.org