College students are more likely than their peers to contract serogroup B meningococcal disease (MenB), although their risk is low, according to a new study.
College campus outbreaks of life-threatening MenB and licensing of two vaccines prompted public health officials to examine vaccine recommendations in recent years. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set out to collect additional data.
The team analyzed 2014-’16 data on 18- to 24-year-olds from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, which included a period of enhanced surveillance.
It found 166 cases of meningococcal disease of any type. About 51% of the cases occurred in college students, according to “Meningococcal disease among college-aged young adults: 2014-2016” (Mbaeyi SA, et al. Pediatrics. Dec. 31, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2130).
Roughly 58% of the cases were MenB. Of those, 68% were college students. MenB incidence was 0.17 cases per 100,000 college students and 0.05 cases per 100,000 non-college students, meaning college students have more than three times the risk, according to the study.
About 32% of the MenB cases in college students were attributed to campus outbreaks. However, even when omitting outbreaks, researchers found college students had twice the risk.
The study also examined meningococcal serogroups C, W and Y and found these types were even more rare, and rates for college and non-college students were relatively similar. Authors said recommendations for all adolescents to be vaccinated routinely with MenACWY have been effective.
MenB vaccines are recommended for those 10 years and older at increased risk of disease due to other health issues or an outbreak. In 2015, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said MenB vaccine also can be considered for low-risk 16- to 23-year-olds with a preference for those who are 16-18. The group did not recommend routine vaccination for the low-risk group due to limited data on safety and effectiveness as well as the relatively low numbers of infections. Only about 10% of 16- to 18-year-olds are receiving the vaccine, according to the study.
Authors of a related commentary said pediatricians should consider the CDC’s findings that college students are at increased risk of MenB and recent research showing the vaccines are effective.
“Pediatricians and primary care providers have a more compelling reason to recommend MenB vaccine for their patients who anticipate attending college," they wrote. "At a minimum, pediatricians should educate students and families regarding the increased risk of MenB infections in college students in the United States and inform them that 2 vaccines are available that can potentially protect college students from this infection.