By Shelley Grieshop
High school seniors preparing to head off to college next fall may want to add one more item to their to do list -- get a meningitis vaccination.
The recent death of Caitlin Caroline Pugh, a freshman at The Ohio State University campus in Mansfield, is a tragic reminder of how quickly meningitis -- particularly the bacterial form -- can overcome its victims. Pugh, 18, came down with flu-like symptoms on Thursday and within 24 hours the Fredericktown woman died from the infection.
Mercer County-Celina City Health Department Nursing Director Sally Bowman says all soon-to-be college freshmen should receive menactra, the vaccination given to prevent bacterial meningitis.
"I would never send my own child to college without one," she adds.
College students are at a higher risk because of their lifestyle, Bowman says. Some colleges today recommend or even require students to have a meningitis inoculation prior to enrolling in classes. Health officials say anyone living in close contact with others is at risk for meningitis including military personnel and nursing home residents.
This year the Ohio Department of Health has taken their recommendations a step further and are urging parents to have children as young as 11 vaccinated for the disease. The vaccine is good for eight to 10 years, Bowman adds.
"If they don't receive it (at 11 or 12), they should get it at an adolescent check-up or definitely before they enter college," she advises.
Bacterial meningitis, an infection of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain, is rare. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent serious long-term medical problems and/or death. The viral form of the illness is less serious; two or three cases of it typically are reported in Mercer County each year, Bowman says.
In February 2001, a Celina City Schools seventh-grader became seriously ill and was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. The child, now a senior in high school, underwent amputations of several extremities as well as other surgeries to overcome the infection that attacked his capillaries. Despite the complications that accompanied the sudden illness, he has fully recovered.
Although authorities still don't know for sure how the 13-year-old contracted meningitis, they theorize the bacteria may have come from the Ann Arbor, Mich., area where the boy's father had recently visited on a business trip. Several cases of bacterial meningitis had been reported in that area at the time.
Statewide about 150 cases of bacterial meningitis are reported annually. Of the approximately 3,000 cases yearly in the U.S., about 10 to 15 percent of patients die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pugh was diagnosed Friday morning with the bacterial form of meningitis; currently doctors believe her case is isolated. However, they still aren't sure how she contracted the illness. Anyone who recently came in close contact with her, particularly students who were in the same classes as her last week, has been advised to seek medical attention as a precaution.