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July 27, 2006

Students unable to obtain meningitis vaccine can still begin college

Incoming college freshmen who cannot obtain the meningitis vaccine from their doctors prior to the upcoming fall semester will not be barred from starting college, according to officials at Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).

The recent decision is a good one, said W. Wayne Brumfield, vice president for student affairs at ULM. “We are pleased that DHH allowed some flexibility for new incoming freshmen who cannot get the vaccination to enroll in fall 2006.”

Per Acts 251 and 711 of the 2006 Regular Legislative Session, all first-time freshmen attending Louisiana colleges or universities must show proof of having received either the Menamune or Menactra meningococcal vaccine or provide a properly executed waiver at registration. A student's registration will not be complete unless these documents are provided to their institution.

Many incoming freshmen have not been able to obtain the vaccine from their doctors. For these cases, a box on the exemption form can be checked for students to indicate that they tried to obtain the meningitis vaccine and could not find it.

"Any student that checks the ‘Unavailability of the Vaccine’ box can still begin the fall semester. This will allow the colleges to have records of these students so that they can be contacted when more vaccine is available," said Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Fred Cerise.

The Board of Regents is working with colleges around the state to ensure smooth enrollment procedures, and the waiver forms will be made available to students during the registration process.

Meningitis, which can be spread through viruses, bacteria and fungi, is an infection of the brain and spinal cord. The disease is not highly contagious, but can be spread through sharing food, beverages or cigarettes and intimate kissing. The disease can be fatal, and bacterial meningococcal meningitis is the most deadly form of the disease. Meningitis typically occurs in late winter, with December, January and February being the peak season for cases.

Health officials warn that the vaccination is not to be confused with treatment for meningitis. It takes approximately two weeks for the vaccination to take effect. Anyone with signs and symptoms of meningitis such as fever and headache accompanied by mood changes and a stiff neck should seek immediate medical attention.

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