The Real Reason for Meningitis in College Students

College freshmen living in dormitories are six times more likely to get bacterial meningitis, according to the National Meningitis Association, so it's recommended that students be vaccinated before they move into the dorms. Now the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Michigan is making college-bound students aware of meningococcal meningitis by throwing in-home "immunization parties." It has hosted five parties since coming up with the idea last year.

Meningococcal meningitis, a form of bacterial meningitis that infects the spinal cord and brain, and can lead to brain damage, deafness and amputation of limbs, is spread by the exchange of saliva through kissing, coughing, or sharing utensils. It can also be transmitted through other kinds of close contact, such as sharing cigarettes and beer glasses. Immunization can prevent up to 80 percent of meningococcal meningitis in teenagers and young adults, according to the NMA, but the bottom line is that vaccinations to prevent meningitis are beyond a useless strategy. Not only have they been linked to diabetes but also virtually no one is addressing the real cause of the epidemic of meningitis on college campuses.

What is the cause? It is the terrible food that is virtually mandatory in every college dormitory in the country. I learned this lesson the hard way. I have taken care of hundreds of high school students and helped improve their health only to find their diseases worsened the moment they started college. Nearly all colleges force their students to reside in dorms the first year. They are simply not allowed to attend the school if they refuse to live in the dorms. My guess is that this is just another way they increase their revenues. I have no problem with them earning extra income from this policy; the major problem is that the food options are beyond terrible.

Inevitably, the students gain weight and lose the health they had acquired because there are virtually no healthy food choices. This is such a consistent policy that I frequently advise students to attend a local community college and then transfer in as second or third year students when they are allowed to live off campus. It has been my experience that even with a doctor's letter none of the campuses are allowing students to waive the dorm-living requirement. The closest I have been able to manage is to allow the students to have a mini-refrigerator in their room. This is still a major challenge though as purchasing and cooking the food while living in a dorm is not an easy situation, but it is clearly better than being completely reliant on the horrible food offerings of a typical college dorm.

ABC News August 11, 2004

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