FDA explores new drug for meningitis

by Emily Kaiser

The Food and Drug Administration is considering a new vaccine against bacterial meningitis, and the results look promising, said David Golden, director of public health, marketing and program development at Boynton Health Service.

Although a vaccine is already in use, the new vaccine would increase in effectiveness. The current vaccine lasts three years to five years.

“The new vaccine, we think, will provide much longer immunity and possibly life-long immunity,” said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, director and chief health officer of Boynton Health Service.

Meningitis is found in both bacterial and viral forms, and the bacterial form can be deadly, Golden said.

He said both forms of meningitis are an infection of spinal cord fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain.

Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, headache and a stiff neck. The infection might also cause confusion and sensitivity to bright lights. The symptoms come on very quickly and must be addressed immediately, Golden said.

Meningitis is contagious and can be spread through respiratory and throat secretions, such as sharing drinks, kissing and coughing.

The Associated Press reported that the FDA is considering the drug, Menactra, which is manufactured by Aventis Pasteur. The drug would vaccinate people ages 11 to 55.

Aventis Pasteur was unavailable for comment.

At the University, 34.4 percent of students ages 18 to 24 are vaccinated against meningitis, according to a survey done in spring 2004 through Boynton Health Service, Golden said.

Students are not in the highest risk category, but the death of a college student because of meningitis always raises awareness, Golden said.

“It tends to be in people who are younger, but college students get a lot of attention,” Golden said.

Kristin Marx, a University student, died of meningitis in March 2003. She was admitted into the hospital two days before she died.

A meningitis vaccine is not required for University students, but some students living in the residence halls have said they get it as a precautionary measure.

The vaccination is not recommended as a required vaccine by the Centers for Disease Control, so the University chose not to require it, Ehlinger said.

The current vaccine is not covered under Student Services Fees and costs $70, if a student’s insurance plan does not cover it.

“It’s not a recommended vaccine, so we don’t want to cover a vaccine that is not recommended by the CDC,” Ehlinger said.

According to The Meningitis Foundation of America, 100 to 125 cases of the infection are reported on college campuses each year. Approximately five to 15 of those cases are fatal.

Sarah Williams, a first-year student living in Centennial Hall, said she got the vaccine because her mother is a nurse and told her she should get it.

“Living in the dorms, you just want to be preventative,” Williams said.

Jessika Higganbotham, a first-year student living in Pioneer Hall, did not receive her vaccine until she moved to campus.

“I didn’t really know anything about meningitis before I came to campus,” she said.

Higganbotham said all of her friends got the vaccine and encouraged her to set up an appointment to get one.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.