New Jersey law currently requires that college students be vaccinated against most of the meningitis alphabet.

So New Jersey's young adults are likely missing out on full protection against all of the most common types of the serious illness.

"Meningitis B is very serious not only because of how highly-contagious it is, but also how quickly it can progress if not detected and treated early on," said Dr. Richard Bezozo, CEO of Linden-based Care Station Medical Group. "Receiving the vaccination is the only way to protect against the disease and prevent spreading it among others."

Meningitis B vaccines have only been available since 2014, while protection against serogroups A, C, W and Y has been available for decades. New Jersey is one of 38 states requiring that college students be inoculated with the conjugate vaccine, which does not include serogroup B.

Adolescents and young adults — particularly those aged 16 to 23 — have the highest rates of the meningococcal disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While meningitis is considered rare, those living in confined spaces — such as college dormitories or military barracks — are considered to be at significant risk, Bezozo said. Cases of bacterial meningitis were reported at Princeton University in 2013 and 2014, and Rutgers University in 2016.

A proposed law advanced by an Assembly panel in December would require that residential college students receive a vaccine for meningitis B.

The potentially life-threatening disease inflames the fluid that surrounds a person's spinal cord and brain. A bacterial infection is more serious than a viral infection. Milder common symptoms include a headache, stiff neck, fever and nausea.

"Any disease that results in a 15 percent mortality rate is a big deal," Bezozo said.

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