It is a potentially fatal bacterial infection caused by Neisseria Meningitidis. It has two forms: meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation that affects the brain and spinal cord, or as meningococcemia, which is the presence of bacteria in the blood. It may also be viral.
The bacterium is transmitted through air droplets (sneezing, coughing) and direct contact with someone already infected. Direct contact also occurs with shared items, such as glasses or cigarettes, or intimate contact such as kissing.
Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. If symptoms occur, the patient should see a doctor immediately. The diagnosis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid. The spinal fluid is obtained by performing a spinal tap, in which a needle is inserted into an area in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal is readily accessible. Identification of the type of bacteria responsible is important for selection of correct antibiotics.
Meningitis can strike at any age. It is spread through close proximity and contact, thus concentrations of people are of concern.
Each year, meningitis strikes about 3,000 Americans and claims about 300 lives.
Approximately 125 cases occur on college campuses each year. 5-15 college students die each year as a result. During the 1990’s the frequency of outbreaks rose at U.S. colleges and universities. The cases among teenagers and young adults have more than doubled. A freshman living in the dorms has a six-fold increase of risk.
A vaccine is available which is 85-100% effective in preventing four kinds of bacteria (serogroups A, C, Y, and W-135) that cause about 70% of disease in the U.S.
It is considered safe, with mild and infrequent side effects such as redness and pain at the injection site lasting up to 2 days.
After vaccination, immunity develops within 7-10 days and remains effective for 3-5 years. As with any vaccine, vaccination may not protect all susceptible individuals. Healthy lifestyles and hand washing also promote immunity and protection.
While not required by federal or state law, the American College Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that all first year students living in residence halls be vaccinated.
Contact Student Health Services if you wish to be vaccinated.