Meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord fluid and the fluid surrounding the brain. There are two major types of meningitis. The most common is viral meningitis. While viral meningitis may be a serious illness, people usually recover in several days.
Bacterial meningitis is caused by several kinds of bacteria. Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria Meningitidis are the leading cause. Meningococcal disease is the leading cause of bacterial blood stream infection and meningitis in children and young adults in the United States. Surveillance of Meningococcal disease found a modestly elevated rate of this disease among students living in residence halls.
The effects of Meningococcal disease can be devastating. Despite treatment with intravenous antibiotic and aggressive medical care, the overall fatality rate of meningococcal meningitis is approximately 11%. One out of seven cases in adolescents will result in death. Up to 20% of survivors of meningococcal disease have permanent injury, such as hearing loss, neurologic disability or loss of a limb.
One of the challenges of diagnosing Meningococcal disease is that its symptoms are difficult to distinguish from those of more common but less serious illnesses. Symptoms include a sudden onset of headache, fever and stiffness of neck sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, confusion, or a rash. This illness can progress rapidly with tragic consequences in a few hours unless intravenous antibiotic are started shortly after the symptoms begin.
Most cases of Meningococcal disease occur sporadically or as individual cases without apparent connection to any case or person. Persons directly exposed to an infected person’s oral secretions (i.e. kissing, coughing) are at elevated risk for contracting the disease. Meningococcal bacteria is NOT spread through casual contact. Persons who had close contact with the oral secretions of an infected person need post-exposure antibiotic therapy preferably within 48 hours to prevent the disease. This includes those who have received the Meningococcal meningitis vaccine.
The best way to decrease the risk of Meningococcal disease is vaccination. There are different types of vaccines licensed and available in the US. The preferred type is the CONJUGATE type (in the US: Menactra™ or Menveo®). Menomune® is a polysaccharide type. All types must be administered within five years of college entry.
Meningococcal vaccination is 85-100% effective against four of the five most common types of bacteria that cause the disease. Studies show that up to 80% of cases of Meningococcal meningitis on college campuses are vaccine preventable. It is important for recipients of the Meningococcal vaccine to remember that no vaccine offers 100% protection. The Meningococcal vaccine consists of only 4 of the 5 most common types of meningococcal disease. This means that the vaccine does not offer protection against all types of Meningococcal bacteria that cause this disease. In addition, not all cases of meningitis are caused by Meningococcal bacteria. If symptoms of meningitis should develop, a vaccinated person should still seek immediate medical attention.
For more information regarding Meningitis or the vaccine, please click on the link below or contact Health Service at (973) 761-9175.