A New Meningitis Vaccine to Consider


Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and tissues surrounding the brain which can be caused by viruses or bacteria.  While most cases of viral meningitis are fairly mild, bacterial meningitis can be a severe, life threatening infection, and is greatly feared. Meningitis caused by the meningococcal bacteria is particularly serious as it can strike very quickly and progress rapidly, often leading to death in several hours.  Some studies have shown that college students are at increased risk of being infected by the meningococcal bacteria, particularly first year students living in dormitories.  For this reason, most colleges including Tufts require that incoming first year students receive a dose of the quadravalent meningococcal vaccine (two brand names are Menveo and Menactra) at age 16 or after. 

The quadravalent meningococcal vaccine protects against four different strains of the bacteria:  A, C, W, and Y, and has been available since 2005.  However, there is a fifth strain, meningococcus type B (called MenB), that also causes meningitis in college students.  It is the strain that most commonly causes bacterial meningitis in college students at this time.  Developing an effective vaccine against MenB has been difficult, and an effective product for use in adolescents and young adults has only been approved in the past year and a half.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended MenB vaccination for people 10 years of age or older who have medical conditions that compromise their immune system and make them more susceptible to bacterial infection.  But MenB is not required or routinely recommended for adolescents or young adults without medical indications.  ACIP advises a discussion between the patient and primary care provider when deciding whether to get vaccinated with MenB.  It is framed as a personal choice.  On the one hand, Meningococcal meningitis is rare, but devastating when it occurs.  On the other hand, because the vaccine is not routinely recommended, health insurances may not cover it for healthy students.  Meningitis vaccines in general have a history of being well tolerated.  Side effects of Men B noted to date are mild; pain at injection site, possible fatigue, headache or low grade fever.  Severe reactions have not been described, but the vaccine has not been widely used yet.  So cost and individual concern about risk of infection and risk of vaccines all play a role in thinking about this vaccine.  If cases of meningitis were to occur among Tufts students, the recommendation for vaccination would change significantly; in that situation, vaccination would be strongly recommended for all.

Based on my review of the literature, I believe the MenB immunization is an important addition to our tool kit in preventing meningitis.  I believe it is a health option that families should consider as they send their students off to college, and I recommend you discussing it with your child’s pediatrician. 

Margaret Higham MD

Medical Director

Tufts University Health Service

Zika Virus – UPDATED

In the intervening months since a piece on Zika virus was written for Spring Break travelers, it was found that the virus is is a sexually transmitted infection and can be passed from person to person.    With many emerging viruses, initial information changes as scientists learn more.

We are attaching recommendations  from the CDC.




Reflections at the End of the Fall 2015 Semester – From the Desk of the Chief Diversity Officer

Dear Tufts Community:

I hope this note finds you entering a period of needed repose as you wrap up the courses you may be teaching or taking or the campus work you do. What follows are my own thoughts after having been at Tufts for my first full semester, particularly as we continue to work towards the goal of making Tufts a fully inclusive and socially just community.

Now in mid-December, I am taken by the notion that I feel as though I am walking in two oddly superimposed worlds. In one world, I am asked to feel festive, wish people “Happy Holidays,” and look forward to a period of repose after a long semester. The other world is juxtaposed against the first in the sense that the airwaves and social media fill our waking moments with anxiety producing reminders that we live in world that is far from perfect. Perhaps you feel as I do that the calls of caroling and “good cheer” feel, well… distant.

Recently, national events have prompted Muslim members of our community to reach out to me and other campus leaders. They have indicated a growing sense of unease or fear, both on and off campus. This, of course, comes on the heels of significant student activism, across race and other dimensions of difference, seeking to improve the lived experience of Black students on our campus.

In this moment when you are catching your breath, I would ask you to consider the lens through which you view this information. Some in our community see these calls for action informed by social justice as absolutely legitimate and connected to their Tufts experience, even if they are not Muslim or Black. Others disagree. I want you to know how I see these experiences and ask you to think about how my thoughts below compare to your perspective.

We currently are in the aftermath of two incidents of domestic terrorism that, like the responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, challenge us to consider who we are as a country and as a university community. These two incidents happened within a week of each other, a mere six days apart. The first was a shooting in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the second was a shooting in a San Bernardino, California community center. Yet our national attention is almost exclusively placed on the event in San Bernardino… It begs the obvious question: Why?

I suspect the answer is uncomfortable to hear, but I believe it is true nonetheless. Simply, members of dominant groups are not seen as a group, and hence, are not asked to bear collective responsibility for each other’s negative behavior. Marginalized people and communities do not have such a luxury.

Our two examples of domestic terrorism are just the latest example of this pattern. A White man shooting a clinic in Colorado Springs is seen as a singular aberration. But the Muslim shooters in San Bernardino are increasingly portrayed as representatives of all Muslims and the entire religion of Islam. Unfortunately, several campaigns for the Presidency of the United States have produced rhetoric that reinforces this pernicious and false notion. Similarly, during some of the Black Lives Matter protests, there were counter protests held by masked White men openly carrying weapons. Many unarmed Black protestors were physically harmed, yet these White counter protestors walked away from the experience relatively unscathed.

These dynamics that happen on a national scale are having a detrimental impact on the way members of our Tufts community feel in classes and in common spaces. I’m writing you to raise your awareness of this fact and to ask something of you as you go into your break and when you return for the spring semester.

If you are one of the many people on campus, across all dimensions of difference, that support our values of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, I want you to be overt about it. The necessity of speaking out is something we’ve heard before from our fellow traveller and sage, Audre Lorde. In her essay The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, she says: “That visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.” This is true for all of us, even, perhaps especially, when we are speaking out in support of others.

As I move into the break, I will not work to resolve the paradox of these two worlds in which we find ourselves, one happy and one sad. Instead, I will seek places where my private celebratory moments with family and friends can also be infused with sobering conversation about the world as it is. I ask you to join me in transforming silence into language and action, because these holiday times necessarily ask us to engage in a radical critique of the status quo… and because the silence of holiday politeness prevents people from seeing they have vocal allies.

I wish all of you well during your break and look forward to seeing or meeting you upon your return. Enjoy your break.

Best wishes,
Mark Brimhall-Vargas, Ph.D.
Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Provost
Tufts University


Paws for a Moment with Dogs

I acknowledge that maybe not everyone likes dogs, but if you do, you tend to really, really love them — like I do.  They make me happy in just about every way.  Their needs are simple – food, water, walks and love.  They enjoy the moment and seem to get a kick out of just about everything – lying in the sun, something that rolls, a crumb that falls from your hand..  Life kind of basically delights them and relationships with them can be a tad less complex than human ones.  At times, that can be very nice to have.

Dogs have assisted humans in diverse ways over the centuries, from keeping predators at bay around the fire, to working as herders on farms, to their more recently developed role in therapies.  Over the course of the last several years, there has been an emerging understanding that the presence of a qualified therapy animal team can have a beneficial emotional and physiological impact within a therapeutic setting.  Medical studies have shown that a therapy dog team can provide a sense of comfort and companionship,  lower blood pressure,  reduce anxiety, fatigue, and depression, and  offer emotional support and nurturing.  Once a therapy dog is trained and certified, they can visit schools, nursing homes, and other settings, usually offering their services free of charge

A therapy dog team including a French bulldog named Olive served as the first therapy dog team at CMHS.  Having Olive for two years was a remarkable success.  Olive and her trainer had office hours where students could visit with her, even if they did not want a conventional therapy appointment.  Olive participated in stress reduction activities around campus, and she loved to play and visit with students (okay, and staff as well!).  Olive moved away last year, but she still thinks fondly about her first job at CMHS, and we think of her warmly and with gratitude as well.

This year, CMHS is fortunate to again have a therapy dog team, Maddie and her handler, Dr. Jay Soucy.

Maddie was certified through the PALS (Pets and Love Shared) Program of the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, CA.  Maddie is a golden retriever who is 10 years old and weighs 75 pounds. Her handler, Dr. Jay Soucy, adopted her from the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. Maddie has been a co-therapist during play therapy sessions and psychological assessments at an elementary school in Oakland, part of one-on-one counseling in private practice settings, and visited with UC Berkeley students to provide stress reduction during finals week. Before coming to Tufts, Dr. Soucy and Maddie created and ran the first-ever canine-assisted therapy program in the acute inpatient unit at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts.

Appointments to meet with Jay and Maddie are by request or available through walk-in on Tuesdays between 1 – 2 pm. Call 617-627-3360 or stop by CMHS to find out more.  You can also catch Maddie enjoying time with students at various events, such as the recent Pause for Paws stress-reduction event at the Latino Center.

Come by for a visit, a little pat, and a smile from Maddie, or look for her around campus.


maddie olive2

Happy Coming Out Day! Oct 7th!

I recently read a book entitled “We are all Welcome Here”  and I was reflecting on this title in regard to Coming Out Day. It should be a given in the world we inhabit together that our basic humanity is cherished and exalted, frankly, and that all the other details of who we are should simply just enhance the experience and wondrousness  of being in the world together and interacting with one another – with people very much like us, and people completely different.

It’s tiring to have to remind people that I am basically just a person:  that I love; I contribute to the world as I am able.  I try my best.  Sometimes I fall down, sometimes I disappoint, and I am truly no different in so many ways than anyone else. 

As the Senior Director of Health & Wellness Services here at Tufts, I want to say that homophobia and transphobia are health issues, big ones, serious ones and it is our responsibility to provide sensitive and appropriate care to all Tufts students – not regardless of who they are but because everyone has the right to decent health and mental health care.  When that quality of care is denied (even once) and when LGBTQ people worry that they will be invisible to their providers…the result is often that they don’t go for care, and that makes everything that much worse.

It’s not surprising that gay/lesbian/bi/trans health statistics are so much worse on many levels.  We have higher rates of substance abuse, depression, mental health concerns, breast cancer, obesity, HIV infection, to name just a few.  Health care providers must be tasked with understanding the link between homophobia and health care and to be able to address the needs of our entire population.

It is our responsibility to speak up against words that hurt and contribute to communities feeling marginalized, less than and truly dehumanized.  We are looking for a time when perhaps we no longer need Coming Out Day because the need to affirm that LGBTQ people are full human beings who deserve the same dignity and rights as everyone else becomes a given. 

Until then, we speak, we challenge, we celebrate — Happy Coming Out Day! 

 You Are A Marvel – Pablo Casals

 Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe,

A moment that never was before and never will be again.

And what do we teach our children in school?
We teach them that two and two make four

And that Paris is the capital of France.

When will we also teach them what they are?
We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are?
You are a marvel. You are unique.

In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you.

In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been a child like you.

And look at your body- what a wonder it is!
Your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move!
You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.

You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel.

And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?
You must cherish one another

We must all work-

To make this world worthy of its children.



Accessing Health and Mental Health Care at Tufts — Check it Out

As almost any current Tufts student will tell you, freshman year of college is often a time full of new and unfamiliar experiences. For many, myself included, that list of experiences includes seeking health care on your own for the very first time. For any number of reasons, many students will pay a visit to Health Services or Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) at some point during their first year. Making the short trek to Health Services or CMHS, however, can often be a confusing and even intimidating process, especially if you’re living away from home for the first time. Insurance and health care is hard enough to understand without having to simultaneously navigate all of the unique challenges of freshman year — not to mention being sick on top of it all! This blog post will hopefully break some of that down.

All currently enrolled Tufts students are required to pay the Health Services Fee (this is different from insurance!). With this, you are entitled to unlimited free walk-in and appointments at Health Services, short term care at Counseling and Mental Health Services (usually about 1 semester’s worth) and an annual flu shot. The Health Services fee, however, does NOT cover lab work (including vaccines, STI testing and/or gynecological exams), hospitalization, x-rays, orthopedic supplies, emergency room visits, prescriptions, and visits to specialists. This is all covered by your insurance and coverage can vary depending on your plan. You can click here and navigate to the health insurance button for information about what is and isn’t covered by Tufts Student Health Insurance. Regardless of what insurance plan you use, however, all students are entitled to free primary care and mental health care under the student health fee.

So, when you eventually contract the dreaded freshman plague (the inevitable result of living in a college dorm), all you need to do is walk in to Health Services (124 Professors Row), sign in, and wait to meet with a clinician. It’s that simple! If you have any questions about the information provided here, please feel free to contact Tufts Health Advocates at tuftshealthadvocates@gmail.com, or call the Tufts Business & Insurance Office at 617-627-3350.

guest Author – James Gordon

Tufts Junior

Welcome to the Germ Pool! Some Thoughts on Staying Healthy from the Health Service Medical Director


The start of the school year is always an exciting time, eagerly anticipated by students and germs alike.  As students from all over the country and the globe converge on the hill, they bring with them viruses and bacteria from far and wide.  Groups of students are everywhere; the pre-orientation groups, the new student welcome activities, and the generally more crowded living quarters of dorms, suites and apartments.  All this close human contact allows for easy transmission of germs.  It is inevitable, and brings with it an increase in student illness.  I remind parents that it is similar to when they first took their children to pre-school; they were sick all the time.  Unfortunately the same thing can happen with the start of the college experience.  We see lots of colds and coughs.

There are some things you can do to try and stay healthy, but despite your best efforts you will likely be sick at least once or twice.  Not sharing drinks helps—not even water bottles!  Please cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder.  Wash your hands,  Use soap and water whenever you use the bathroom, and hand sanitizer at other times.  Try not to rub your nose or eyes.  Touching your nose or eyes is the most effective way for cold viruses to enter your body.  And finally, if you are sick, try to keep your distance from others, and get some extra rest.  I know you’ve heard all this before, and it is all true!

When you do get sick, try to roll with it and be patient.  Remember that it takes time for your body to heal.  Colds are no fun, and we don’t have a cure for them.  They are unfortunately part of college life.  If you are more seriously ill, come to Health Service. We will be happy to check you out.

One interesting phenomena we notice every year is that mono is quite common in incoming first year students in the first month or two of school.  What is interesting about it is that mono takes a long time to develop. The incubation period is 30 to 50 days.  That means illness develops a month or more after exposure, so many of the first year students who get mono early in the school year were actually exposed over the summer before they got to campus.  College aged people just like to be close together!

Be well, be aware of ways to take care of yourself, and know that we are here for you when you need us.

Margaret Higham, MD

Making Friends

For most incoming students, freshman year of college is a time marked by newness: new places, new experiences, new interests, new challenges, and new friends. The last two items on that list, however, may seem redundant, as making new friends in college can often be an enormous challenge in and of itself. To be certain, freshman year provides no shortage of new people. After all, a trademark part of the freshman orientation experience is shaking the hands of hundreds of new people you will likely never speak to again. For some, the habitual survey of questions that most freshman come to impulsively ask one another upon first introduction (Where are you from? What are you majoring in? What dorm are you living in? Did you do a pre-orientation?) will actually yield a few memorable names and faces. For others, the process of making friends and finding community will prove to be a much greater challenge.

            While pre-orientations, orientation groups, and freshman housing can provide many opportunities to bond with other incoming freshman, the people you are grouped with are almost always chosen at random. Without a common interest, identity or background as a foundation, it’s not uncommon to struggle to making lasting bonds in these spaces. That said, these are certainly not the only spaces in which you can make new friends and find opportunities to build community. At the start of each new semester, for example, you will find the campus littered with fliers advertising general information meetings (GIMs) for almost every campus organization at Tufts. Your Facebook newsfeed will inevitably be cluttered by GIM Facebook events and students making plugs for their affiliated groups. And while your sudden introduction to the onslaught of three-letter acronyms that most campus organizations identify themselves by (most of which start with “T” for Tufts) might seem endless and a bit esoteric, do not be overwhelmed. Find the time to go to the GIMs. Though the corny icebreakers that most groups being their meetings with might seem intimidating at first, these meetings will present countless opportunities to interact with other students who share your interests, identities, and beliefs.

            But if this doesn’t ultimately lead you to your circle of friends for the next four years, don’t be discouraged. Building a community of friends is a process and it takes time. And even if you do find friends during your first semester at Tufts, those friendships often change and adapt over time. I myself didn’t even meet most of the people I now consider to be my closest friends until my sophomore year. The process of making new friends is highly individualized and differs from person to person, but given the right amount of time and a little patience, it will happen.

guest author Jame Gordon
Tufts Junior

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