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Meningitis B vaccine: What college students need to know

A teenager get a vaccine for meningitis B.

A teenager get a vaccine for meningitis B. Photo Credit: Fotolia

Q. I’ve been hearing radio advertisements for a meningitis B vaccine. Is this something new?

A. Most colleges already require a meningitis vaccine for students that covers the A, C, W135 and Y strains, because the disease spreads when many people live in proximity, such as in a dormitory.

Over the past two years, the FDA approved two optional, additional vaccines to guard against a fifth strain, called the B strain: Bexsero or Trumenba, says Dr. Paul Lee, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola.

Bexsero is given as two doses at least a month apart. Trumenba requires three. Bexsero was given to students at Princeton University and UC Santa Barbara after an outbreak of meningitis B that affected at least a dozen students from those campuses in 2013. The life-threatening disease is caused by bacteria that can infect the bloodstream and the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Everyone recovered at Princeton, but one California student had to have his feet amputated.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices this past summer recommended adding a B vaccination for young adults ages 16 to 23. This means if a medical professional feels a meningitis B vaccine is warranted, insurance should pay for it, Lee says. The members didn’t move for a blanket mandate. “There’s nothing as strong as that,” Lee says.

Lee advises that parents of college students consider having their children get one of the B vaccines. “I’d probably do it,” he says. “It’s a disease that’s rare, but if you get it, really serious complications can happen. It’s a young, healthy person who gets this disease. They’re fine on Friday and they’re dead on Saturday.”

Vaccine side effects include arm redness and swelling, he says. Disease symptoms include flulike feelings that may be accompanied by severe muscle pain.

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