Meningitis type B kills and maims without mercy.
IN September 2005, my son Isaac called home from his apartment in New York City to tell his mother he had a terrible headache and felt lousy: chills and a fever. He was a very healthy young man who worked out every day and took pride in how and what he ate. Thinking it was the flu, my wife told him to get some sleep and drink lots of fluids. He called again that afternoon to report that the headache was even worse and he felt even sicker. His mother reassured him that it was probably the flu, so get some rest. I agreed with the diagnosis.
But it was not the flu. It was type B meningitis eating at his body and brain. He died soon after he spoke with his mother. I found his body. He was just 26 years old.
There was nothing that could be done back in 2005 for meningitis type B. He had his meningitis shot for college, but there was no vaccine for meningitis type B then — but there is now. And every mother and father should make sure their children get it, because type B kills and maims without mercy. Sometimes the results of meningitis type B make dying almost preferred to living in a brain-dead coma.
As one who has lost a child to Meningitis type B and as an ex-college president, I am fully aware that meningitis loves to hit college campuses, as it has recently. According to the state Department of Health, meningitis is especially a concern for students living close together in dorms. In Washington, 20 to 30 cases are reported each year, and include deaths. This has led to a dubious distinction: Meningitis deaths in Washington are higher relative to the rest of the country.
Even if treated, 10 to 12 percent of people who get it will die from it, according to the Department of Health.
Currently, states normatively ask students to get the shots for types A, C, Y and W strains, but the killer B is not called for. Moreover, too many states allow college students to opt out of getting a vaccine through a waiver system. This places others at risk if the person who did not get the vaccine contracts meningitis.
What may be at issue here is a lack of awareness of the threat of meningitis type B and the vaccines that were only just approved by the FDA to defend against it. Parents, students, professors and college administrators must be made aware of the threat and keep every student safe and healthy.
Until that happens, campuses across the country will see instances of this disease because of the way the disease spreads — with close personal contact. Living in dorms, sharing a drink, a kiss, that’s how meningitis moves from one person to the next. As stewards of these campus communities, we must act to protect our student and faculty populations. Schools need to adopt stronger meningitis-vaccine requirements by ensuring that students and their parents are not only aware of the risk of meningitis type B, but by requiring students get the vaccine.
Waiting until an outbreak has hit a community is too late. Colleges need to be proactive in their approaches to help prevent meningitis before it hits. I’ve seen firsthand — this disease moves faster than we can react.
This has to change. Kids are dying and losing limbs due to this dreadful disease. There is no good reason that these vaccines aren’t more widely available. The current situation is unacceptable. Those of us who have the ability to keep another life from being impacted by meningitis must take action.
Children, and especially college students, need to be vaccinated for all strains of meningitis, including type B. If my son had been vaccinated for type B, he would be with us today.