Meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis, is an uncommon, but potentially life-threatening illness. Studies have shown that from 2014-17, the risk of contracting meningitis B was 3.5 to five times higher in college students age 18-24 compared to persons not attending college of the same age. From 2011 through March 2019, meningitis B caused all U.S. college meningococcal outbreaks, which involved 13 campuses, 50 cases, and two deaths among an at-risk population of approximately 253,000 students

Boiled down, and that means that meningococcal disease leads to to death in 10 percent to 15 percent of cases in the U.S. annually. Among the survivors, as many as 19 percent live with permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, nervous system problems, loss of limbs, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations. Helen Keller was blinded by meningitis.

Early symptoms might appear mild—similar to those of a cold or the flu — but can progress quickly and can be fatal, sometimes within 24 hours.

That’s what happened back in the fall of 2003, when 20-yer-old Eddy Bailey of Jefferson died from meningitis.

The valedictorian of the Jefferson High School Class of 2000, Eddy was one of two University of Wisconsin System students claimed by meningitis that year. One evening, he wasn’t feeling well, thinking he had the flu. In the morning, only 16 hours later, he collapsed while en route from his off-campus apartment to the health clinic and died.

Back then, a vaccination against meningitis wasn’t on the list of college necessities. The Baileys, like most families, were unaware of the need or potential danger. Fortunately, that has changed during the past 16 years.

Approximately 5 percent to 20 percent of people in the population are carrying this bacteria in their nose and throat and they are just fine, but they can transfer it to a susceptible person. An inflammation and infection of the tissue lining the brain and spinal cord, bacterial meningitis can be spread through kissing, sneezing, coughing and sharing drinks, eating utensils or a cigarette, drinking from the same cup or by any contact with oral or nasal fluids of the infected person.

Since 2005, routine vaccination has been recommended for adolescents to help protect against meningitis groups A, C, W and Y. However, recent CDC data show that only 14.5 percent of teens have received the vaccine that helps protect against meningitis B, which causes approximately 30 percent of the cases in the U.S., and all cases on college campuses since 2011.

Anyone can get meningitis, but studies show that the risks to be higher for college students, especially incoming college freshmen and especially those living in dorms. This is because the disease is more likely to spread in crowded living quarters. However, remember that Eddy Bailey lived off campus, so that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

Each year at this time, the Baileys speak out on the importance of vaccinating college students against all forms of meningitis, and we do too. In memory of Eddy and respect for his family’s efforts, please imunize your college students from Meningcoccal group B.

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