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College students among those who may need back-to-school immunizations

Jenna Dunn was an active 26-year-old in 1999, enjoying her life as a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas, when she developed severe meningococcal disease due to infection with the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, one of the leading causes of meningitis. Despite the fact that Jenna was in the hospital within a couple hours of the onset of her symptoms, she died 17 hours later.

Today, Jenna's parents, Barbara Dunn and James Dunn, are involved in efforts to make Minnesotans more aware of meningococcal disease so that other parents won't have to go through what they have. They want parents, lay people and physicians to be more aware of the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease so that it can be diagnosed and treated more effectively. As importantly, they want everyone to be aware that most strains of the disease can be prevented through vaccination.

At the request of Barbara Dunn, Gov. Mark Dayton recently proclaimed August as Meningitis Awareness Month in Minnesota. August is also National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) and each week of NIAM, federal and state health officials are focusing on vaccination for different age groups. This week, Aug. 11-17, the focus is "Off to College: Young Adults." The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is reminding parents and college students that preparation for college includes getting all the vaccines needed before the school year starts: make back-to-school appointments now.

Among the vaccines recommended for college students is the meningococcal vaccine. MDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and medical and nursing organizations all strongly recommend that children receive meningococcal vaccine during the preteen years, and most Minnesota students receive it before leaving high school. Those who are going on to college but have not received meningococcal vaccine should be vaccinated before classes start, or at the earliest opportunity thereafter.

College students, especially those who live in dormitories, are at a slightly increased risk for meningococcal disease compared with others of the same age. The risk for meningococcal disease among non-freshmen college students is similar to that for the general population. Even though the risk of the disease goes down with older-aged college students, the vaccine may be given beyond the freshman year.

When you enroll in college in Minnesota, you may need to show that you've been vaccinated against five major vaccine-preventable diseases: measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, and diphtheria. The Minnesota College Immunization Law applies to anyone who was born after 1956. However, students who graduated from a Minnesota high school in 1997 or later are exempt from these requirements under the law (because they will already have met them as a high school student), although some colleges may require proof of immunizations from these students, too. Minnesota laws also require post-secondary schools to provide students with information on the transmission, treatment and prevention of meningococcal disease and hepatitis A, B, and C.

"Even healthy young adults can get sick from vaccine-preventable diseases," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases for MDH. "Protection from vaccines you received during childhood can wear off with time, and you may also become at risk for other vaccine-preventable diseases. So it's a good idea to follow the immunization schedule for young adults." Besides meningococcal vaccine, this includes Tdap, HPV and influenza. "Students can help themselves stay in the game by getting an annual flu shot every fall, too," Ehresmann added.

More information on meningococcal disease can be found on the MDH website at

For copies of your or your child's vaccination records, talk to your doctor or call the Minnesota Immunization Information Connection (MIIC) at 651-201-5503 or 1-800-657-3970.