Roll Up Your Sleeves

In response to measles outbreak, colleges make new push on vaccinations. Meanwhile, norovirus spreads in Virginia.

February 9, 2015

The outbreak of measles in the United States is leading some institutions to change rules or practices.

Meanwhile, cases of norovirus have spread to a third college in Virginia. The two diseases have drawn more attention to the risk of epidemics on campuses, where masses of students and employees work and study together and, at residential campuses, live in close quarters.


The current measles outbreak has been traced to exposure at Disneyland. Students at five colleges, three of them in California, have been diagnosed with the respiratory disease, which is caused by a virus. Millersville University, in Pennsylvania, alerted students and faculty members last week that someone who likely had measles was at a recent basketball game attended by 1,000 people.

The outbreak has drawn attention to the lack of uniform procedures at colleges and among states about vaccination requirements. Twenty-two states do not require college students to be vaccinated (although many colleges in those states may have such requirements). And colleges that require measles vaccinations have various rules on exemptions. Campus health experts typically believe all colleges should require vaccinations and have very limited exemptions.

Some changes are starting to take place.

The University of California System, which has been studying the issue since before the current outbreak, announced Friday that it will require incoming students to be screened for tuberculosis and vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, meningococcus, tetanus and whooping cough.

Some colleges and school districts have been criticized by health officials for exempting people from vaccination requirements for vaguely defined "personal beliefs" of the students or their parents. The University of California policy will allow exemptions only for medical or religious reasons.

Some institutions that already require students to be vaccinated are turning their attention to employees. Washington State University on Friday asked all employees to verify their measles vaccination status and, if they have not been vaccinated, to do so. “We know the majority of students -- up to 97 percent -- are vaccinated. We don’t know how many employees are vaccinated, and the health of our community is dependent on making sure as many people as possible within our community are vaccinated or have demonstrated immunity,” said a statement from Bruce Wright, executive director of campus health services.

The outbreak also may change the way medical schools teach about measles. The State University of New York at Buffalo announced that the disease has always been part of its medical school's curriculum. But the school is shifting instruction to stress to medical students that measles is a possible diagnosis in the United States today -- something that was seen as unlikely before the recent outbreak.

Norovirus and Meningitis

Three Virginia colleges this month have been facing an outbreak of norovirus in the state. A case of norovirus tends to pass quickly, but is highly contagious and involves severe stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. So many students at Hampden-Sydney College were hit that the college shut down for a few days.

Outbreaks have been smaller at Longwood University and Virginia Union University, where only one student so far has been diagnosed.

A third high-risk infectious disease has emerged in Rhode Island, where state officials and Providence College administrators are developing plans to prevent the spread of meningitis. Two students at the college have been diagnosed with the life-threatening disease.


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