New meningitis law coming in State of Texas

A grave concern for many heading off to college dormitories is the possibility of contracting meningitis. In recent history, all students living in the dorms were required to be immunized against. However, new laws are coming within the State of Texas according to news reports.

Now it’s no longer just the students living on campus. The new law will require all incoming students to be vaccinated, in hopes of alleviating the potential threat to those that don’t live on campus as well. All incoming Texas college students must be immunized against bacterial meningitis starting in January under new guidelines recently signed into law.

First-time students of public and private colleges who live on campus already must be immunized against the disease, which can be deadly to young people living in crowded quarters such as dormitories or military bases.

This comes in response to the recent death of Texas A&M University student Nicolis Williams. The 20-year-old wasn’t required to get the vaccine because he didn’t live on campus. Williams died just three days after complaining of flu-like symptoms, his father, Greg Williams said in news reports.

But the new Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act, authored by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and honoring victims of the disease, expands the requirement to all college students. Davis said existing law left too many students vulnerable.

The original Jamie Schanbaum Act went into effect in January 2010, after Jamie contracted the disease as a sophomore at the University of Austin in 2008. She, fortunately did not lose her life, however, her legs were amputated below the knee. She also lost her fingers as meningitis turned to a flesh-eating bacteria. This original Act was to solely include those students living on campus.

“It’s a devastating disease,” Davis said. “It hits and does its damage within a matter of hours.”

“We extended it so all students entering the college system have to have the vaccine,” Davis said.

Dr. John Shelton, assistant medical director at the University of North Texas Student Health and Wellness Center, said the type of meningitis targeted by lawmakers is caused by Neisseria meningitidis.

“If you have the meningitis from it, it is very serious,” Shelton said, explaining that it has a 10 to 15 percent fatality rate and about 10 to 20 percent of people who survive have serious disabilities. It can be a very debilitating disease. “You can lose your hands and feet,” he said. “You can go deaf from it.”

About 1 in 20,000 people gets the disease every year, Shelton said. Peak incidence is typically in the 16- to 25-year-old age group. Symptoms include severe headache, fever and vomiting, Shelton said. A person can grow sicker and end up in a coma, he said.

Shelton said incoming freshmen or transfer students who need the vaccine can check availability by calling their college health departments, private doctors or local public health department.

Students can potentially miss class if they don’t have verification by the first day of the semester, according to the law. About 2,000 incoming UNT students are expected to be affected by the new law in the spring 2012 semester.

Colleges and universities are now working to implement the rules and changes, which may become a part of the application process at many schools.

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