Beginning with the upcoming Fall 2006 semester, incoming freshmen must be vaccinated against meningitis to enroll at any Louisiana public or private college or university.

Health officials particularly urge entering freshmen who will be living in dormitories or communal settings to get the vaccine before beginning the fall semester.

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.

The requirement is the result of Acts 251 and 711 of the 2006 Regular Legislative Session. The legislation mandates that all first-time freshmen attending Louisiana's postsecondary institutions show proof of having received the 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.

This is in addition to the current immunization requirement for students to show proof of having been vaccinated with two doses of measles, mumps, and rubella and one tetanus/diphtheria vaccine within the last 10 years.

"Meningococcal disease is a serious illness with a quick onset that can kill an otherwise healthy person in a short time," said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. "Although meningitis is a rare disease, entering college freshmen who live in dormitory settings are at a slightly higher risk of contracting it than others. This vaccine requirement will protect this group against contracting or becoming a carrier of a potentially fatal illness."

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.

"Our first responsibility is to protect the health and safety of the students we serve," said Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie. "Because of the close contact among students on a college campus it makes good sense to take this precaution against such a serious health risk."

Students are encouraged to go to their personal physicians to receive the vaccine prior to beginning the fall semester.

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