Meningococcal Meningitis Information

Following recommendations from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the American College Health Association (ACHA), we strongly encourage that all students receive the meningococcal meningitis vaccine prior to arriving on campus.

The CDC and ACHA also recommend that other college students under 25 years old who wish to reduce their risk for meningococcal meningitis be vaccinated.

Background Information

 Meningitis can be caused by many germs including bacteria, viruses and fungi. This condition is an infection of the meninges—the tough outer membrane covering the brain and spinal cord.  The meningitis of most concern is caused by bacteria named Neisseria meningitides.  This condition is called meningococcal meningitis.  Students who live in the dorms are at higher risk especially the 18 year old age group.  However, older students and those living off campus are at risk as well. 

This is a very serious illness that can be prevented by the meningococcal meningitis vaccine.  The effectiveness of the vaccine tends to wane after 5 years which is why a booster is recommended.

Rates of infection

Meningococcal disease strikes 1,400 to 3,000 Americans each year and is responsible for approximately 150 to 300 deaths. Adolescents and young adults account for nearly 30 percent of all cases of meningitis in the United States. In addition, approximately 100 to 125 cases of meningococcal disease occur on college campuses each year, and five to 15 students will die as a result.

Who is at risk?

College students living in residence halls are more likely to acquire meningococcal disease than the general college population because of lifestyle factors such as:

  • sharing personal items
  • active or passive smoking
  • irregular sleep patterns
  • bar patronage
  • excessive alcohol consumption (more than 15 drinks per week)

How it’s spread

The meningococcal bacteria can spread from person to person through exchange of respiratory and throat secretions, such as coughing and kissing. It can also be spread through the air via droplets of respiratory secretions.

Long term effects

Meningococcal infection can be contagious and progresses very rapidly. It can easily be misdiagnosed as the flu, and if not treated early, meningitis can lead to death or permanent disabilities. One in five of those who survive will suffer from long-term side effects, such as:

  • brain damage
  • hearing loss
  • seizures
  • limb amputation

Symptoms

Meningococcal meningitis often begins abruptly and can progress from mild symptoms to a life-threatening illness in hours. Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • high fever
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • sleepiness
  • seizures
  • rash

Vaccination

A reformulated meningococcal vaccine, or conjugate, can provide longer duration of protection against four of the five strains of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease.

The vaccine is available at Medical Services during walk-in immunization hours.  Only one dose is recommended with a second dose recommended 5 years later.  The vaccine is 85-90 percent effective in protecting against strains A, C, Y, and W-135. However, the vaccine does not cover one strain, which causes 32 percent of meningococcal disease among 15 to 24-year-olds.

A new vaccine that protects against type B will hopefully be available in 2015.

More information

For more information, contact us and/or consult with your family physician. You can also read answers to common questions about meningitis and get more information from the ACHA or CDC.