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Students at UW-Madison need second meningitis shot

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Minnesota students who attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison are urged to squeeze in a meningitis vaccination appointment while they are at home on winter break.

State health officials estimate that 2,000 Minnesota students were given a first dose of the vaccine at a campus clinic following the outbreak in October. Those students now need a second dose to fully protect them against the infection.

Minnesota teens typically get a meningitis vaccine that covers four bacterial strains of the disease. But the shot doesn't address the less-common B strain of Meningococcal bacteria involved in the Wisconsin outbreak. 

"Even though most of the students graduating from Minnesota high schools have had the meningitis vaccine, they wouldn't be protected against this particular strain," said Kris Ehresmann, the Minnesota health department's Infectious Disease Division director.

Meningococcal disease is rare and can cause people to become sick very quickly. It can cause potentially fatal infections of the brain, spinal cord or blood. 

The health department says students or their parents should call soon to schedule that second shot because many health care providers don't stock the vaccine called Bexsero. 

Pharmacies may also have a limited supply of the vaccine, said Ehresmann. 

"[Students and parents] need to make sure that they're calling in advance to say, 'This is the situation. This is the vaccine I need. Do you have that available?'" Ehresmann said.

The department suggests that students bring documentation of their first vaccination at Madison to their appointment to make sure they receive the correct vaccine.

Meningococcal disease is transmitted by kissing, coughing, sharing silverware or drinking from the same container, which is why it spreads more easily in college campus settings.

"If you're sharing drinks or cans of pop or cigarettes, or any of those things, kissing, those would put you at risk and obviously those are all things that college students would be engaging in," said Ehresmann.