Archive for Thursday, January 8, 2004

Governor proposes steps to raise meningitis awareness on campuses

January 8, 2004

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is urging university officials to distribute information about preventing the spread of meningitis on college campuses, especially in dormitories.

Sebelius sent a letter Tuesday to Reggie Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents, recommending steps to protect students from the potentially deadly disease. The letter comes two weeks after two students at Pittsburg State University were hospitalized with bacterial meningitis.

"Specifically, I am asking the board to consider raising awareness about immunization for meningitis among incoming college freshmen and their parents through student housing contracts," Sebelius wrote.

The governor said asking students to disclose whether they've been immunized for meningitis would benefit public health.

The Pittsburg State students both lived in Trout Hall, a campus residence hall, and became ill during the week of Dec. 15. The students are both out of the hospital and recovering.

Todd Cohen, a Kansas University spokesman, said the university began distributing information about bacterial meningitis to incoming freshmen in 2001. Students receive a letter at their homes after they've been accepted, and then hear about meningitis again from health professionals at orientation.

"This is the best way to reach all students, not just those in the residence halls," Cohen said.

Both in the letters and the presentations, students are urged to be vaccinated for meningitis. The vaccines are available for $65 at Watkins Student Health Center.

The last case of bacterial meningitis was in 2002, when an education professor was diagnosed with the infection. A freshman student died of meningitis in 1997.

Meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord fluid and the fluid around the brain, leading to swelling in the lining around both. With the bacteria that caused the students' cases, meningitis can lead to hearing loss, mental retardation, amputations and even death.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, between 10 percent and 15 percent of such meningitis cases are fatal. Of the patients who recover, between 10 percent and 15 percent suffer serious effects. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, intense headaches and a stiff neck.

Nicole Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Sebelius, said the governor thought the suggestion was timely, given the recent cases. In addition, Corcoran said, as a mother of two sons who attended college, the governor was surprised by her own experiences when universities did not ask about meningitis when the boys entered residence halls.

"Clearly, that's still on her mind," Corcoran said.

Robinson said the suggestion would be forwarded to university and community college leaders, giving them the opportunity to take appropriate action.

"I think it's reasonable and appropriate," Robinson said. "It's something we should do."

Robinson said Sebelius first suggested the changes before the Pittsburg State cases, which he said validated her interest in acting before a widespread outbreak on Kansas campuses.

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