30 Laws in 30 Days: Preventing meningitis outbreaks at state schools

By Cameron Mattern
TheStatehouseFile.com

Editor’s note: This is the 29th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.

INDIANAPOLIS — Students attending Indiana state colleges and universities can now add meningitis to the list of vaccinations required before they can further their education.

“Close contact is how it spreads. Through coughing, sneezing and kissing. It’s respiratory droplets is what they are called. You can’t see them, but they are there,” said David Orentlicher, adjunct professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “So that’s the thing. You’re in a dormitory or sharing rooms, so that’s why people worry about it spreading among college students.”

House Enrolled Act 1069 requires students enrolled in a state school have the vaccine by the fall of 2018.

Indiana already requires students attending an accredited high school to be vaccinated for meningitis, but the new law will ensure all students, including those from out-of-state and foreign countries, have the vaccine.

Meningitis is the swelling of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, and can be fatal.  Survivors can suffer from permanent disabilities such as brain damage, amputation of limbs, scarring from skin grafts and hearing loss, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This has approximately a 15 percent fatality rate once there is an outbreak, so we just need to stop it from happening to begin with,” said Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler, who authored the new law.

Students will have to provide documentation proving they have been vaccinated for meningitis. Indiana state universities and colleges already require students to be vaccinated for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Measles, Mumps and Rubella.

The law also maintains exceptions for medical and religious reasons, provided that the student has the appropriate documentation.

Orentlicher said more than 30 states have similar laws on the books.

“To reinforce prevention is so valuable,” he said. “We always say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and here’s a very good example, because it’s a very serious disease and we have a good way to prevent it.”

Cameron Mattern is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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