Monday marks the first day of classes at the University of Texas-El Paso. It also marks the first fall semester that incoming students who don't live on campus must be vaccinated against meningitis.
The Texas state legislature passed a law in 2011 that broadened the meningitis vaccination requirement to include students younger than 30 who commute to school. The original law only required students who live on campus to be immunized.
Meningitis is an incurable disease that can lead to neurological problems, seizures, amputations or even death. The law was named in honor of two Texas students, one who lost limbs and the other his life, to meningitis.
Immunize El Paso outreach coordinator Dusty Warden said college students are required by law to be inoculated because the risk of contracting the disease increases when students share living space.
"We've also realized that other settings can also be breeding grounds for meningitis, for instance, high schools and even middle schools," Warden added. "So we've tried to vaccinate younger age groups as years go by."
There have been cases reported in El Paso County in recent years, driving home his point that this is not an antiquated disease that has not been seen in a generation. Warden pointed out that if more people get vaccinated, there are fewer people who could contract the disease.
"Let's say you have ... someone who, for whatever reason, they haven't had an opportunity (to get the vaccine), and they come in contact with someone who made the choice to not get vaccinated," Warden explained. "They're putting other people at risk. So vaccination isn't just for yourself, it's for your community."
Immunize El Paso clinics offer the meningitis vaccine.