The Official Student Newspaper of Calvin College Since 1907
October 10, 2003
Volume 98, Issue 5
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Dorms at higher risk for disease
  File photo
This white arrow denotes bacterial meningitis.

A $77 charge may have been the best investment made by Calvin College students this fall at the meningitis clinic held on Wednesday, October 1st, in the Hekman library lobby.

Calvin Health Services provided this clinic to all students, whether living on or off campus in an attempt to prevent a serious life-threatening disease that greatly affects college students living in dormitories. Meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis, is a bacterial infection of the brain linings and is caused by an upper respiratory tract infection which can be transmitted through activities such as sharing cigarettes, drinking out of the same glass as an infected individual and kissing. Thus, due to the congregate living conditions of college dorms, students living in these facilities are far more susceptible to the disease during this period of life.

In fact, the risk of developing meningitis increases six times for college freshman living in dormitories. According to the American College Health Association, about 3,000 Americans are infected with meningitis each year and as many as 100 to 125 cases occur on college campuses every year. As many as 15 college deaths are reported each year as the disease can progress rapidly and kill a young adult in less than 48 hours.

Although common on college campuses, there has not been a reported case of meningitis at Calvin, said Ellen Van Artsen, the travel health and immunization nurse for Calvin. Yet Van Artsen states that Calvin does have a plan in place in the event of a student contracting meningitis. “We would be able to track other potential students that may have come in contact with the bacteria,” Van Artsen said. Calvin family nurse practitioner, Dianne Slager, referred to meningitis as a “reportable communicable disease,” which emphasizes the ability to track contact between students and thus track the disease.

Meningitis may be hard to detect as the symptoms often resemble those of the common flu, which may inhibit students from seeking medical treatment, especially during the winter months when meningitis overlaps the typical flu season. “The symptoms are very similar to the flu so that by the time you know what it is, it may be too late for treatment,” said Van Artsen. Such symptoms include a high fever, vomiting, severe headache, neck stiffness and lethargy. Students are advised to seek medical care as soon as possible if any two of these symptoms occur at the same time, due to the seriousness of the disease. If it is not detected in time, brain damage, hearing loss and even death can occur.

The high possibility of a deadly disease sweeping through college campuses has led numerous organizations and associations to urge colleges to educate freshmen about the disease and to provide vaccinations against meningitis. According to the National Meningitis Association, 24 states have passed legislation to require students moving on campus to either show proof of a meningitis vaccination or to sign a waiver which states that they are aware of the risks of the disease.

Health Services provides this vaccine at Calvin which lasts from three to five years with little or no side effects. The vaccine at Calvin is covered through Knightcare and may also be covered through other insurance companies with a reimbursement form. Approximately 100 students were vaccinated at the health services clinic along with at least 40 to 50 freshmen vaccinated before arriving at school.

What else can students do to prevent the possibility of getting meningitis? Maintaining a strong immune system is recommended by eating healthfully, sleeping enough and exercising regularly. Students should also avoid sharing drinks, utensils or cigarettes with other students. College students are also prone to meningitis due to the amount of “high risk behaviors” that students engage in, such as attending parties and sharing drinks with other students. Overall, the best preventative measure against meningitis is to be vaccinated against the disease and to be aware of the risk while living on campus.

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