Meningitis threatens college students - Infectious Diseases - MSNBC.com
OK. So, this article is a horror story about the dangers of bacterial meningitis intended to get teenagers to get vaccinated with a facade of opposition opinion to the vaccinations.Statistically speaking, the doctor was right. Meningococcal meningitis strikes fewer than 3,000 people in the United States each year, many of them college students or children under age 1. But while the bacterial infection is relatively rare, it’s also deadly, killing 10 to 12 percent of those it infects, sometimes within hours. The disease attacks and shuts down major organs and prevents blood from circulating to limbs, causing tissue to die. Among survivors, 20 percent suffer brain damage, kidney disease, loss of hearing or sight, limb amputations or other severe complications.
The disease is spread through air droplets and direct contact with someone who is infected. College students, particularly freshmen living in dorms, are at increased risk because of their lifestyle. They’re living away from home for the first time and many share everything from drinks to drags off each others’ cigarettes. And too many late nights of studying and partying can leave their immune systems run-down and vulnerable.
But, let's look at some real numbers.
According to the article, some 3000 people per year contract bacterial meningitis. That's about 10 per million. Of those, 10% die (for an easy number, the article actually states 10-12%). 20% develop serious complications. So, that means that 3 per million people in the country will die or develop serious complications from bacterial meningitis.
The vaccine is said (again, according to the article) to be "83% effective against 4 of the five strands [sic] of bacterial meningitis". For convenience, I'm going with 80% effective against 80% of the strains of the bacteria that causes the disease. For all we know, the article doesn't tell us, the fifth strain that it doesn't work against could be the cause of 90% of all of the cases contracted, or it could be 1%. A fair assumption would be 20%.
In that case, 36% of all patients that receive the vaccine are not actually protected against the virus. So, we will still have 3.6 cases of meningitis for every million people, even if everyone in the country were to be vaccinated. And, 1.08 serious complications or death per million.
But, not everyone can be vaccinated. The disease is contracted mostly by infants and college students. The article doesn't state how many of the cited cases happen to each group, and it is very likely that infants are more susceptible to serious complications and death than college students. However, let's assume that 50% of the cases and complications do happen to college students. The vaccine cannot be administered before age 11. That means that it can only prevent half of the potential cases or .54 serious complications or death per million. The other .54, assuming that infants only constitute half of the population with such results (a very long shot in my opinion) cannot be prevented through vaccination.
However, the vaccine is not without effect. 1.25 of every million that receive the vaccine will contract Guillain-Barre syndrome. While this is not fatal it can be very debilitating for weeks, and possibly years. And, it is likely that the vaccine can have other effects, the vaccine is preserved with thimerosal which has been indicated, but not proven, to have significant negative effects in a minority of patients.
So, I guess my main question and point of debate here is, in your opinions, what is the purpose of such scare stories that don't tell us the whole story?
In this case the vaccine is likely to result in more than double the cases of complications than would ever be caused by the disease. It may prevent .18 deaths per million people and .36 serious complications (assuming certain distributions, the actual numbers are likely much lower), but at the risk of causing 1.25+ per million less serious complications.
Does the media really do us a service by printing such one sided stories intending to scare us into actions that may not be beneficial, or of only marginal benefit?
Is it good for us to be scared all the time?