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College Students Home For Break?

Armen Hareyan's picture

As college students return home for their holiday break, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) encourages parents to consider the "gift" of protection against disease. Two vaccinations parents should consider scheduling for their children are those for influenza and bacterial meningitis. College students, who often live in close quarters and gather in large groups, are especially susceptible to the spread of these diseases.

IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, says holiday break is a good time for parents to make sure their older children are vaccinated. "With all the demands at the beginning of the college year such as buying books, scheduling classes and moving into dorm rooms, parents often forget about preventive health care. The holiday break is a good time to schedule an appointment for these important vaccinations."

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Bacterial or "spinal" meningitis is a severe bacterial infection of the blood and the thin membrane covering the brain and spinal cord. Although a relatively rare disease, it can result in death. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rash, and a stiff neck. Meningococcal disease is spread through direct contact with oral or nasal secretions of a carrier. A closed setting such as a college dormitory, combined with high-risk behaviors in college students (alcohol consumption, exposure to tobacco smoke, sharing food or beverages, and kissing) may cause some college students to be at greater risk for invasive infection.

The influenza vaccine is in plentiful supply this year and it's not too late to receive a flu shot for this season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and dry cough. It's important to remember that in addition to immunization, everyone can help reduce the spread of influenza by coughing or sneezing into a disposable tissue or sleeve, washing hands frequently and staying home from work or school when ill.

Dr. Quinlisk says now would be a good time to make sure a college student's other vaccinations are also up-to-date, including the new tetanus booster that also provides protection against whooping cough. Also, young women should consider the new papilloma virus vaccine that protects against cervical cancer.