August 18th, 2011
05:08 PM ET

The vaccines your college freshman needs

Most parents know what vaccines their children need and at what age they should receive them, but they may not realize that their college-bound offspring need specific inoculations too.

Each state has different vaccination requirements for students, so if your child is going to an out-of-state school, he or she may be missing a few required vaccines. Most colleges require measles, mumps and rubella varicella, which is chickenpox or proof of having had the disease, hepatitis B, and a tetanus booster, which is  necessary only if it's been 10 years since your last shot.

All of us should make sure we're  properly vaccinated,  but it is especially important for college students. They live close together in dorms or in campus apartments and it's very common for them to share bathrooms, showers, drinks and even towels.

"When you're in close environments, classrooms, working out at the campus recreation centers, living in dorms, you're more likely to come into contact with other people who are ill. The vaccines that we give can help prevent an overall outbreak," says Dr. Maureen Olson, medical director of Student Health Services at Georgia Tech.

Because  freshmen can have a tough time adjusting to their new independent lives at college, Olson strongly urges these students to get all their vaccinations on time to reduce the risk of getting sick, an event that could add unnecessary stress.

In addition to required vaccines for college, other vaccines recommended in some cases for college-bound kids include shots to prevent pneumonia, human papillomavirus, hepatitis A, and meningitis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, college freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at an increased risk for contracting bacterial meningitis. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and an altered mental status, which may just sound like a bad hangover, but these actually are signs of a serious illness.

Both bacterial and viral meningitis are contagious and can easily spread to those around you, so it is smart to abstain from sharing drinks, kissing, and coming into direct contact with a lot of people. Since 2009, 34 states have passed laws requiring colleges to inform students of the risks and warning signs of this disease and 15 states have actually mandated that students be vaccinated.

Practicing healthy habits such as hand washing, cleaning contaminated surfaces with soap and water, and refraining from sharing drinks, utensils or lipstick also will reduce health risks.

However, if a student does become sick, it is equally important to prevent the spread of illness to classmates.

First, if you feel sick, don't go to class. Instead, call your student health center so you can see a doctor and start taking medication. If you have flu, for example, the doctor will probably recommend that you stay in your room until the fever has subsided, usually within 24 hours.

Even though you may be feeling better, it is imperative that you continue to cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and most important, get plenty of sleep, fluids, and nutritious food.

The CDC offers helpful tips on staying happy and healthy while away from home.

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