In light of a recent meningitis B outbreak at Santa Clara University, the Student Health Center is providing 3,000 meningococcal vaccinations to UCSB students.
The vaccinations, Bexsero and Trumenba, have been recently approved for the UCSB Health Clinic, and will be offered to students at the drop-in immunization clinic. Four students were affected by a meningitis B outbreak at UCSB in 2013, and Student Health encourages all students to receive the vaccine.
Dr. Philip Robinson, vice president of the Infectious Disease Association of California, provided details of how the disease is communicated.
“It’s spread by secretions from the nose and the mouth, so snot and spit are things that can spread it from one person to another,” Dr. Robinson said. “It does not live outside the body for very long, so typically you have to have pretty close contact with someone who has the disease or is colonized with the bacteria in order to acquire it.”
According to Dr. Robinson, the bacteria can remain dormant and harmless in the nose, but there is a chance it can spread throughout the body.
“Typically, if you were to line up 100 people and do cultures of their nose, about 10 of them would actually have the bacteria sitting on the membranes of their nose, where it causes absolutely no problems in 99 percent of that 10,” Dr. Robinson said. “But that one percent can have the bacteria go from the nose into the blood, and once it gets into the blood it can go into any organ, such as the brain, and cause meningitis.”
Dr. Robinson said although meningitis seems common, outbreaks are relatively rare; however, the disease itself can be fatal.
“In the last year or two we’ve had about 2,000 cases each year, so relatively that’s not very many compared to other infections such as the flu, where millions people get infected with influenza,” Robinson said. “The difference is that meningitis is much more scary and potentially deadly because you could go from being perfectly healthy to dead in a day — and those people that survive the infections are often left with some lifelong problems. Amputation is a fairly common event in response to meningococcal infections.”
Shane Yen, second-year pre-biology major and one of many students waiting in line to get a vaccination last Friday at the Health Center, said he was looking forward to receiving the vaccination.
“I usually don’t look forward to getting shots,” Yen said. “But when you’ve got a deadly infection like meningitis, which could potentially kill you, I’m actually really eager to get this shot. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Dr. Robinson provided tips for students to stay safe and prevent catching the disease and encouraged students to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
“The most important way to prevent this infection is to get the vaccine — that’s number one,” Robinson said. “Other than that, avoid people who are sick, try not to share secretions and be aware in overcrowded situations.”
Dr. Robinson said the disease is contracted in social settings, which makes it especially important for college students to get the vaccine.
“In times when there are outbreaks, visiting bars, drinking alcohol and smoking are also risk factors for catching it,” Robinson said. “But by far, the most important thing is to get the vaccine.”
According to Dr. Robinson, the vaccine’s most common side effect is soreness at the injection site. Others can include fever, headaches and rare muscle aches, but these conditions are “a whole lot better than losing your life.”
“The saddest thing as an infectious disease specialist is to see a young, intelligent, perfectly healthy student die or become maimed from this infection, when I know that it is preventable with a simple shot,” Dr. Robinson said.