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Meningitis Information

What is Meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis, a form of bacterial meningitis, is a serious, potentially deadly disease that can progress extremely quickly. It is an infection that results in swelling and irritation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The bacterium that causes meningococcal meningitis can also infect the blood. Although rare, this disease strikes about 3,000 Americans each year, of those, 100 to 125 live on college campuses. Risk factors include recent exposure to meningococcal meningitis and a recent upper respiratory infection.

What can help prevent the disease?
Vaccinations are effective against four of the five most common types that cause 70 percent of meningococcal disease in the U.S. Vaccinations take seven to 10 days to become effective, with protection lasting three to five years.

The Center for Disease Control states the following: "College freshmen living in dormitories are at increased risk for meningococcal disease and should be vaccinated with MCV4 before college entry if they have not previously been vaccinated. However, since the vaccines are safe and produce immunity, they can be provided to non-freshmen College students who want to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease. Routine vaccination also is recommended for certain persons who have increased risk for meningococcal disease. Use of MCV4 is preferred among people aged 2-55 years."

What are the symptoms?
High fever, headache and a stiff neck are common symptoms in anyone over the age of two years. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness.

How is meningococcal meningitis diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made by a medical provider and is usually based on a combination of clinical symptoms and laboratory results from spinal fluid and blood tests.

How is the disease transmitted?
The bacteria are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions. Close and prolonged contact - such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters with an infected person - facilitates the spread of disease. The average incubation period is four days, but can range between two and 10 days.

What increases the risk of getting meningococcal meningitis?

Exposure to saliva by sharing cigarettes, water bottles, eating utensils, food, kissing, etc.
Living in close conditions (such as sharing a room/suite in a dorm or group home).
First time college students who live in dormitories are at higher risk for meningococcal disease compared to other people of the same age.

What are the possible consequences of the disease?
Death (which can occur as quickly as 8 to 24 hours), limb damage (fingers, toes, arms, legs) that requires amputation, permanent brain damage, gangrene, kidney failure, coma, learning disability, convulsions, hearing loss, blindness.

Can the disease be treated?
Antibiotic treatment, if received early, may save lives and increase the chance of recovery. However, permanent disability or death can still occur despite early and appropriate treatment.

How can I find out more information?

  • Contact your own health care provider.
  • Contact your local or regional Texas Department of Health office at 888-963-7111, www.dshs.state.tx.us.
  • Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 800-311-3435, www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.htm.
  • Contact the American College Health Association at 410-859-1500, www.acha.org

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