College presents a new world of opportunity, and a new world of risks. Communal living spaces, less-than-sanitary conditions, and irregular sleeping habits all can leave students vulnerable to disease.
This means prevention is key, says William Schaffner, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Schaffner, who is also chair of preventive medicine and an infectious diseases professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, spoke with WebMD about the most important vaccines for incoming freshmen.
Meningitis is usually caused by an infection that attacks the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The most serious types of meningitis can result in brain damage or even death.
Most parents know children should be vaccinated against meningitis before they go to college, where the crowded, sometimes less-than-sanitary dorm life makes it easier to spread meningitis bacteria through respiratory and throat secretions.
Young adults entering the military need the vaccine for the same reason...
What are the top vaccines that college students need?
"Each patient will have a different situation, and their medical records can bring them up to date. Overall, the ones I'd emphasize are meningitis and hepatitis B."
"Almost every college requires or strongly recommends students be vaccinated for meningitis, especially if they plan to live in the dorms. Close quarters make it easier for bacteria to spread."
"Hepatitis B is a blood-borne infection, but can also be transmitted through sexual activity. The disease can have long-term liver consequences. The hepatitis B vaccine is a three-dose series, and might be among the safest vaccines ever made."
"I would also recommend the combined tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine."
I'm underage. Do I need parental permission to get vaccinated?
"Parental consent is required."
Will my college's student health center provide vaccinations?
"That depends a great deal on the school. Students should check into whether it is provided and whether the cost is covered."
What do I need to watch out for in the hours or days after vaccination?
"Nothing serious. People might tell you to call back if you run a fever, but on the whole these are remarkably safe vaccines."
I have no idea what shots I got when I was a kid. My parents took care of all of that. What do I need to do -- call my pediatrician back home?
"Most colleges send you a health form to fill out before you go. That's your opportunity to visit your pediatrician and talk about your immunization record. But of course, you can always contact your doctor any time with questions."
William Schaffner, MD, president, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases; professor, chairman, department of preventive medicine, professor of medicine, division of infectious diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.