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Health officials at Washington State University, Pullman campus are advising its freshmen students and other students living in residential housing to obtain a meningitis vaccine or booster if they have not done so within the past two years. This statement from WSU health officials comes after one of its students was hospitalized in December 2010 with meningococcal meningitis. The WSU campus also reported a case of meningococcal pneumonia earlier in the fall semester.

WSU health officials expressed concerned because in both reported cases, the students had received the meningitis vaccine, Menactra, three years prior to becoming infected. Dr. Dennis Garcia, a health official at WSU, stated that both students had a type of meningococcal disease that should have been covered in the vaccine. These two cases raise an important inquiry: how effective is the meningitis vaccine?

Dr. Bruce Wright, executive director of WSU’s Health & Wellness Services, advised that all meningitis vaccines lose effectiveness over time, but his main concern was that students who received the meningitis vaccine more than two years ago may incorrectly assume that the vaccine still remains effective.

WSU health officials are so concerned about the effectiveness of the meningitis vaccine that they urged students to receive booster vaccines, especially if they live in dormitories, sorority or fraternity houses or any other dense residential area because the bacterium can be spread easily by those who share eating, drinking or smoking materials. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists two meningococcal conjugate vaccines offered for the bacterial disease. The best preventive measure against meningitis is still to keep up to date with immunizations. However, like any antigen that is injected into the human body, vaccines do not come without risks. For a list of the potential side effects, risks and adverse reactions to the meningitis vaccine, visit the CDC’s website.

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