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Meningococcal Meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection that attacks the brain and spinal cord. It can result in permanent brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, organ failure or death.

Recent studies show that college students, especially freshmen living in residence halls, are at increased risk for meningococcal meningitis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that college students and parents are educated about meningococcal disease and consider vaccination.

As of July 2002, the state of PA passed a law requiring all university students to either get the meningitis vaccine or sign a declination statement.

Cold & FLU Remedies - Do you know what you're taking?

The idea that drugs sold without a prescription are, by definition, "safe" is a common misconception. Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies are available directly to consumers not because they are without potential side effects, but because the Food and Drug Administration believes the benefits of the drug outweigh its risks. Almost all medications pose some risk when taken injudiciously, such as when taken too often, in too high a dose or with the wrong foods, alcohol or other medications.

  • Cough Suppressants Dextromethorphan, available in both liquid and pills, is the most common form available. It is effective for temporarily relieving cough due to minor throat and bronchial irritation as may occur with a cold or bronchitis. Examples include Robitussin DM, TheraFlu and Tylenol Cold. Dextromethorphan is generally well tolerated but should not be taken if you are currently taking a prescription medication known as a Monamine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOI). These medications are generally used for psychiatric or emotional conditions. If you do not know if your drug contains a MAOI, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking this cough suppressant.
  • Decongestants Pseudoephedrine is the most widely used oral decongestant. It is available in pills that either contain only this medication (Sudafed) or combinations of other products (Tylenol Cold, Advil Cold & Sinus). It is also found in many liquid remedies as well (Dimetapp). Common side effects include restlessness, light-headed feelings and insomnia. More rare side effects include irregular heartbeat, hallucinations and convulsions. People with heart disease, hypertension, glaucoma or an overactive thyroid gland need to be careful with this medication.
  • Pain/Fever Relievers Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and Aspirin (Anacin, Bayer) are among the most widely used drugs in the world. These drugs are used for a variety of reasons. They are used in all age groups and are available in many forms. In addition to pain relief, these drugs have the unique ability to also act as anti-pyretics or fever reducers. Ibuprofen also has anti-inflammatory properties that make it an excellent medicine for muscle aches, strains and sprains. Because of all these benefits, it is very hard to find cold and flu remedies that do not contain any of these ingredients. Common side effects of ibuprofen and aspirin include heartburn or indigestion, stomach cramps and occasionally nausea. Gastrointestinal bleeding may occur, although this is usually only seen with prolonged use. In excessive doses, kidney or liver damage may occur. Acetaminophen is well tolerated by most people. Long-term daily use may cause kidney damage.
  • Expectorants Guaifenesin is another commonly used ingredient found in many OTC cough and cold preparations, e.g. Robitussin, Triaminic and TheraFlu. Simply put, expectorants help make thick phlegm more thin, making it easier for the individual to expectorate his or her secretions. These medications work better in the presence of large amounts of clear fluids. Common side effects include dryness, nausea or stomach ache.
  • Antihistamines Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) and Clemastine (Tavist) are all "old generation" antihistamines. Newer antihistamines  include Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec. These medications are very effective at drying up loose secretions. These ingredients are often found in medications that are labeled as "p.m." or "nighttime formula," as they can be sedating. People with a history of asthma, glaucoma or prostate problems should be cautious with these medications. The medicines interact very poorly with other drugs, namely sedatives and MAOIs, and in the presence of alcohol.

Over-the-Counter Pitfalls

  • Misdiagnosis Proper self-treatment starts with proper self-diagnosis, which can sometimes be very difficult. Misdiagnosis is especially dangerous if a drug controls your symptoms while the real disease goes undiagnosed and untreated. It's reasonably safe to treat yourself only if you have a highly familiar symptom or if your doctor has previously diagnosed the same problem. If your symptoms seem different or more severe than can be reasonably expected, seek medical advice.
  • Inadequate Therapy The ability to buy a drug over-the-counter sometimes distracts patients from getting proper care. There are some medical conditions in which there are no suitable over-the-counter remedies. If you have a serious or chronic condition, ask your doctor what role, if any, OTC drugs should play in your therapy.
  • Side Effects Many OTC drugs can cause unpleasant and, in some cases, potentially dangerous side effects. Learn to read labels so you will know what to look for.
  • Overdoses The presumed safety of nonprescription drugs tempts some people to use more than what the label recommends. In some cases, even a moderate overdose can cause harm. Some people exceed the recommended dose because they want the potency of a prescription drug without getting the prescription. Overdoses can also occur inadvertently when people are taking multiple nonprescription drugs. Be careful!
  • Overuse Frequent repeated use of some over-the-counter medicines can cause dependency. After the drug wears off, you develop "rebound" symptoms even more pronounced than the original ones. This can create a cycle of increasingly frequent drug use and worsening symptoms. Side effects may also become more pronounced or more serious with prolonged use.
  • Drug Interactions Without professional supervision, you're more likely to take drugs that can interact adversely with other medications. Foods, drinks or dietary supplements can also complicate the use of a drug. Again, read labels or ask your pharmacist.

Helpful Hints
To help minimize the risks of OTC drugs:

  • Don't treat yourself unless you have a familiar symptom or your doctor has previously diagnosed you with the same problem.
  • Choose products based on the active ingredient and generally stick to single-ingredient products.
  • Read package inserts and product labels carefully.
  • Don't take drugs in higher doses or longer than recommended.
  • If you are generally sensitive to medications, consider starting at the low end of the recommended dosage.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions, and ask your doctor if you need to avoid any nonprescription drugs.