Meningitis on Campus

Bacterial meningitis is usually severe.  While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities.  In the United States, about 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, including 500 deaths, occurred each year from 2003-2007.  There are five main types of meningococcal bacteria:  A, B, C, Y, and W.  The most common ones that cause disease in the United States are B, C, and Y.   In 2012 there were about 500 total cases of meningococcal disease, and 160 of those cases were caused by serogroup B.

Transmission and Symptoms of the Disease

The germs that cause bacterial meningitis are contagious and can spread very rapidly. The bacteria are spread person-to-person through the air by respiratory droplets such as with coughing and sneezing.  It can also be spread through direct contact with an infected person, such as oral contact with shared items like cigarettes or drinking glasses and through kissing.  College students living in residence halls are more likely to acquire meningococcal disease than the general population due to these behaviors as well as close living situations, irregular sleep patterns and sharing of
personal items.

Protection

The quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all children and teens age 11-18 years.  College students younger than age 22 years who are living in a residence hall should get a booster dose of the vaccine if their previous dose was given before age 16 years.  The vaccine protects against 4 types of the disease (A, C, Y, and W-135). It is about 85-90% effective against these types, but offers no protection for serogroup B.

Teens and young adults ages 16-23 should be vaccinated, especially if high risk, with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, preferably at age 16-18 years of age.  2 or 3 doses are needed depending on the brand.  The quadrivalent and the B meningococcal vaccines can be given at the same time in different arms.

Prevention

  • Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Not sharing drinking and eating utensils
  • Good personal hygiene
  • Covering your cough/sneeze with a tissue or your elbow
  • Frequent hand washing

The MOST effective way to prevent bacterial meningitis and many other infectious diseases is to complete the recommended vaccine schedule.

*Check with your primary care provider or pediatrician to see if you have had these vaccines or should complete them.
*Contact Brady Health Center with Questions 301.687.4310.

Adapted from: American College Health Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html, and the University of Maryland Health Center