Meningitis: the very word makes folks stop and listen. In case you plan to read no further than this first paragraph, the most important stuff will come first. The bad type of meningitis is mostly preventable.The American College Health Association says, “College freshmen, particularly those who live in dormitories, are at modestly increased risk for meningococcal disease relative to other persons their age.”
So, college students who live in dormitories (properly known here as residence halls) should be immunized. Call the Health Center at x2509 to make an appointment. The immunization costs $75.00.
Meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord and membrane that surrounds the brain. It is caused by either a virus or bacteria. Viral meningitis is usually more mild and resolves without medication or specific treatment. Bacterial meningitis can be much more serious and lead to deafness, blindness, loss of limbs, and death.
The meningitis that makes headlines is caused by an organism called N. meningitides; the illness itself is called meningococcal meningitis.
Symptoms of meningitis may develop quickly over a few hours, or may take a few days. Common symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness.
Bacterial meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics, and mortality rates can be kept below 15 percent with prompt treatment.
This all sounds terrible. How do you keep from getting meningitis?
First, get the vaccine mentioned above. The vaccine protects against four of the five strains of the meningitis organism. Second, follow the usual recommendations for staying healthy: keep your hands away from your face, wash hands before eating, and don’t share food, drinks, and the like with anyone (unless you are willing to share their germs).
Get rest, and eat well. Fortunately, the meningitis bacteria are not casually spread. The organism can be spread by the “exchange of respiratory and throat secretions” (i.e. coughing, kissing). So, when meningitis is diagnosed, anyone with direct contact with the patientÃ¸s oral secretions (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend) would be considered at increased risk of acquiring the infection. People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningitis caused by N. meningitides should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.
College freshmen, especially those who live in residence halls, are at higher risk for meningococcal disease and should be educated about the availability of a safe and effective vaccine which can decrease their risk.
During 1994-1998, approximately two-thirds of cases among persons aged 18-23 years were caused by serogroups C, Y, or W135 and therefore were potentially preventable with available vaccines.
Although low overall incidence of 1.0 per 100,000 population per year, cases of meningococcal disease occurred 9-23 times more frequently in students residing in dormitories than in those residing in other types of accommodations.
In 1997, the American College Health Association (ACHA), which represents about half of colleges that have student health services, released a statement recommending that “college health services [take] a more proactive role in alerting students and their parents about the dangers of meningococcal disease,” that “college students consider vaccination against potentially fatal meningococcal disease,” and that “colleges and universities ensure all students have access to a vaccination program for those who want to be vaccinated.”
Vaccination does not completely eliminate risk because the vaccine confers no protection against serogroup B disease and although the vaccine is highly effective against serogroups C, Y, W-135, and A, efficacy is less than 100 percent.
Each year about 100 to 125 cases of meningococcal disease occur on college campuses, causing the deaths of five to 15 students. Many of these are preventable. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Student Health Center at 610-436-2509.