Infectious disease outbreaks on campus: Is your child vaccinated?

October 9, 2014 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn
Infectious disease outbreaks on campus

When your children enter college, you may worry about how well they are taking care of themselves. Is the dining hall food nutritious? Is there time for the gym? Does school-life balance allow for adequate amounts of sleep? Are drugs and alcohol a problem on campus?

Part of empowering your children to take care of themselves is talking with them about what they need to do to stay healthy. Considering the number of infectious disease outbreaks that have struck college campuses across the U.S. during 2013 and 2014, it has become obvious that the conversations you have with your college-age children need to cover immunization.

Vaccines are important at any age
During the 20th century, many infectious diseases have become uncommon in the U.S. because of nationwide immunization requirements. However, in recent years, some of these diseases have seen a major resurgence, and outbreaks have been scattered throughout the U.S.

There are several explanations for this. For one thing, a fraudulent study published in the late 1990s linked immunization to the incidence of autism spectrum disorders. Even after the truth about this study was exposed, the misconception persisted, leading a growing number of parents to refuse vaccines for their children. This leaves individual children vulnerable, but if enough kids in a community go without vaccines, pathogens may find a wide pool of people to infect.

Additionally, international travel has allowed Americans the opportunity to visit countries where many of these infectious diseases are still prevalent. Similarly, unvaccinated immigrants and travelers may bring these diseases to the U.S.

Keep track of outbreaks
Between 2013 and 2014, there’s been an alarming resurgence in cases of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., and many of these outbreaks have occurred on college campuses:

  • Mumps – At least four schools have been impacted by mumps in 2014, including Ohio State University, Fordham University in New York, University of Wisconsin – Madison, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 15, at least 965 people were infected.
  • Measles – Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 29, 2014, 592 people in 21 states have been infected with measles. The majority of these people have never been immunized.
  • Meningococcal disease – Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, both experienced outbreaks of meningococcal serogroup B disease.

Even if your children were immunized when they were younger, protection is not always complete. For example, the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) combination vaccine is only 78 percent effective against mumps when given as one dose, and 88 percent effective when given in two doses. Ask your physician if your children should get another MMR vaccine before college.

When it comes to meningococcal disease, there are vaccines to protect children and young adults from four of the five main serogroups responsible for infecting people, so make sure your children are up to date on their immunizations against this disease.

If you have other questions about how your children can stay healthy in college, talk to a family health advisor. These professionals can direct you to a broad range of information that will help you and your children take proactive steps to help guard their health and wellbeing as they pursue their higher education.