Did you know?
- Meningitis strikes 1400 - 3000 Americans each year and is responsible for approximately 150 – 300 deaths.
- Between 100 and 125 cases occur on college campuses every year.
- 5 – 15 college students die each year as a result of meningitis.
- Cases among teenagers and young adults have more than doubled since 1991.
- The frequency of outbreaks increased at U.S. colleges and universities during the 1990’s.
What is Meningitis?
- Meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection.
- It can occur in two forms – as either meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation that affects the brain and spinal cord, or as meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood.
What causes Meningitis?
- This infectious disease is caused by five predominant strains of the bacterium Neisseria meningitides.
How serious is meningococcal disease?
- Meningococcal infection is contagious and progresses very rapidly. It can easily be misdiagnosed as the flu or other minor infections that include a fever, and if not treated early, meningitis can lead to death or permanent disabilities. One in five of those who survive will suffer long-term side effects, such as brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, or limb amputation.
How is meningococcal disease spread?
- Meningococcal disease is spread person-to-person through the air by respiratory droplets (e.g., coughing, sneezing). The bacteria also can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person, such as oral contact with shared items like cigarettes or drinking glasses, and through kissing.
What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?
- Symptoms of meningococcal disease often resemble those of the flu or other minor illnesses that include a fever, making it difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, sensitivity to light, fatigue, and confusion. Because the infection progresses quickly, students who notice two or more of these symptoms occurring at one time in themselves, friends or others should contact their health provider or local hospital immediately. If untreated, meningitis can lead to shock and death within hours of the first symptoms.
Who is at risk of getting meningococcal disease?
- Anyone can get meningococcal disease. Certain groups, though, are at higher risk. These include infants, adolescents, and college students, particularly those living in residence halls. Disease rates decline after infancy, but begin to rise again in early adolescence, peaking between the ages of 15 and 20 years.
- Due to lifestyle factors, such as crowded living situations, bar patronage, active or passive smoking, irregular sleep patterns, and sharing of personal items, some college students may be more likely to acquire meningococcal disease than the general population.
- Certain conditions also increase a person’s susceptibility to the disease. Persons with immature or damaged immune systems are at increased risk. Respiratory tract infections also increase a person’s risk of getting the disease. There also may be certain genetic factors that increase the risk of infection.
- Anyone in close contact with a known case is at risk.
- Anyone traveling to areas of the world where meningitis is prevalent in the region is at risk.
Is there a vaccine to help prevent meningitis?
- A safe, effective vaccine is available.
- The vaccine is 85% to 100% effective in preventing four kinds of bacterial infections that cause 70 to 80% of the disease in the U.S.
- The vaccine is safe, and adverse reactions are mild and infrequent. The most commonly reported reactions are redness and pain at the injection site, headache, and fatigue. These respond to ibuprofen or acetaminophen and resolve spontaneously within a few days
- After vaccination, immunity develops within 7 – 10 days and remains effective for a minimum of 3 to 5 years. As with any vaccine, vaccination against meningitis may not protect 100% of all susceptible individuals.
Is vaccination recommended for college students?
- Meningococcal vaccination is recommended by CDC and ACHA for all first-year students living in residence halls. Other college students under 25 years of age, who wish to reduce their risk for the disease, especially if they also live in residence halls, may choose to be vaccinated.
Who should be vaccinated?
- All first year students living in residence halls
- Undergraduate students 25 years of age or younger who wish to reduce their risk for the disease may choose to be vaccinated (especially if they live in residence halls)
- Students with medical conditions that compromise immunity (e.g. HIV, absent spleen, antibody deficiency, chemotherapy, immuno-suppressants)
- Other groups (non-college age) are recommended for vaccination
- Students at the time of high school entry
- Young adolescents at the pre-adolescent doctor visit (11 to 12 years of age)
- Travelers to endemic areas of the world
- Lab workers with potential exposure to meningococcus
Additional information is available at the websites of the American College Health Association, www.acha.org/, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/submenus/sub_meningitis.htm.