Dear Parents,

I know how busy you are making sure your children have everything they need as they head off to college. I know your “to-do” list is longer than your left arm. I know all of that. I remember it well.

However, despite the length of your “to-do” list, one of the most important things you can do for your children is to educate them about and protect them from meningococcal disease. Because of our kids’ lifestyles and their environment, college-aged kids are vulnerable to this disease.

This explains the outbreaks on college campuses that you may have heard about. But parents, as scary as an outbreak on your child’s campus is, it is even scarier to know the majority of cases are actually single cases all over the country that you have probably never heard about. This is what happened to my precious Emily.

Meningococcal disease is a serious infection of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms mimic those of other less-dangerous illnesses and often get ignored or initially misdiagnosed. Some common symptoms are a stiff neck, headache, fever, vomiting, light sensitivity, drowsiness or confusion, joint pain and a purple/red rash. Please understand that not all symptoms may be present. The only symptom my Emily had was a headache.

Another terrifying fact about this disease is its speed. An otherwise healthy patient can progress to a critical status within hours. Ten to 20 percent of those with this disease will die like my Emily. Another 10-20 percent will live with severe life-debilitating effects, such as loss of limbs and brain damage. You need to explain to your children that if they suspect this disease, they should treat it as a 911 emergency.

Because this disease is so fast and so dangerous, the best way to treat meningococcal disease is by preventing it. Thankfully, all of the five common serogroups of meningococcal disease are now vaccine preventable. There are two separate vaccine series needed for the most comprehensive coverage.

First, make sure your student has received his/her second MenACWY vaccine. This would have been given at age 11 and then repeated at age 16/17. And now, unlike when I sent my Emily off to college, there is a vaccine series to protect your students from Serogroup B (which accounts for nearly 50 percent of the cases on college campuses). Your student needs a complete series of this as well.

Please add this protection to the very top of your “to-do” list. Like you, I sent my Emily off to college with all the same items as you are: coordinated bedding, efficient storage units and everything else needed to have a great college experience. Lastly, I thought I was sending her off to college with all the protections needed, including the second dose of MenACWY — but the MenB vaccine was not available to us. It is available to you now. Take advantage of this opportunity.

                                                         Warmly, Alicia Stillman


Alicia Stillman of West Bloomfield and husband, Michael, have two additional children, Karly, 25, and Zachary, 21, besides Emily, who passed away in 2013. Stillman is co-founder and director of the Emily Stillman Foundation. She speaks nationwide on meningitis, vaccine advocacy and organ/tissue donation. She can be reached at