Vaccinating seasonal workers could block disease |

Vaccinating seasonal workers could block disease

Eben Harrell

ASPEN – Pitkin County Health Officials said yesterday they might begin promoting meningitis-preventing vaccinations among resort employees who live in dormitory-like housing.The announcement follows two developments. Dustin Foote, a 22-year-old seasonal employee living in Snowmass, contracted meningococcal disease and died of meningitis last week less than 24 hours after the onset of symptoms.Also last week, a federal advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that all college freshmen who live in dorms should be vaccinated for bacterial meningococcal illness, citing evidence of increased risk of the disease among young people living in close proximity. The meningococcal infection can cause meningitis, a deadly swelling of the brain.Two Colorado-based doctors who served on the Centers for Disease Control panel said yesterday that seasonal employee housing in resort towns such as Aspen resemble dormitory conditions and likely see increased risk of the disease.Dr. Myron Levin of the University of Colorado’s Medical School, chairman of the panel, said the vaccinations weren’t mandated because the only data available is for college freshmen. While the normal risk of meningococcal disease is lower than one in 100,000 people, college freshmen have a contraction rate of more than five in 100,000.”The same thing has been asked about summer camps. In the case of resort towns, I think a prudent policy-maker – for example your county health department – might want to look at the similarities between college freshmen and resort employees and make recommendations accordingly,” Levin said.Pitkin County Director of Community Health Yvonne Hernandez and Pitkin County Medical Liaison Dr. Morris Cohen – two health officials responsible for advising Pitkin County – said they will decide in the coming weeks whether to advocate vaccinations among seasonal employees. Dense housing complexes are of particular concern, they said. “[Vaccination] is certainly something we need to talk about. Organizations such as the Aspen Skiing Company and the Aspen Music Festival bring in a lot of young people who live in dormitory-like housing. We are certainly looking into it,” Hernandez said.The Centers for Disease Control panel’s recommendations were sparked this year by a new vaccine, Menactra, that is effective against meningococcal bacteria for more than eight years. The old vaccine lasted three to five years but didn’t prevent people from being carriers of the bacteria; the new vaccine does. It is thought that as much as 30 percent of the general population are unwitting carriers of the bacteria.Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health, which helps implement federal immunization recommendations, said Foote’s death in Aspen draws parallels to the experience of college freshmen. Foote was from a small town in Washington and had not traveled extensively before moving to Aspen. He had two roommates.”This is what happens. A young person moves away from home and lives near other young people. He is exposed to carriers of meningococcal bacteria and the results are devastating,” Calonge said. “If you have a situation that really matches up with the college freshman situation, why wouldn’t you [vaccinate] everybody? Well, maybe you would.”Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism