Meningococcal disease

Potentially Life-Threatening Infection

Did you know college students are at risk for a rare, but potentially life-threatening infection known as meningococcal disease?

While no cases of meningococcal disease have been recently reported at Lander University, Student Health Services along with the Centers for Disease Control recommend that all freshman students living in residence halls be vaccinated against this serious illness.

Here is what you should know about meningococcal disease:

What Is Meningococcal Disease? Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection. The disease most commonly takes the form of either meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord or the brain, or as meningococcemia, a blood infection.

Meningitis, sometimes referred to as spinal meningitis, is caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

Viral meningitis is the more common form of the disease. Viral meningitis is usually not as serious as bacterial meningitis and patients usually get better with minimal treatment.

Bacterial meningitis is often referred to as meningococcal meningitis. Because it can be easily spread, meningococcal meningitis can cause outbreaks in a specific area, such as a college campus. Infection can cause serious illness resulting in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability and even death.

Meningococcal disease is transmitted through the air by respiratory droplets resulting from sneezing and coughing and from direct contact, such as kissing or sharing items with an infected person. Studies have shown that certain lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and frequenting crowded environments increase risk.

The disease usually peaks in the late winter and early spring

What Are The Symptoms? Symptoms of meningitis are similar to those of the flu and are therefore easy to mistake as flu symptoms. Common early symptoms include sudden onset of one or more of the following conditions:

  • High Fever
  • Nausea
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Severe Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Rashes
  • Neck Stiffness
  • Confusion
  • Sensitivity to Light

How Is Meningitis Diagnosed? Meningitis is confirmed by laboratory tests. The diagnosis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid. 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 to treat the disease and to determine what actions to take to prevent the spread of the disease.

How Is Meningitis Treated? Bacterial meningitis can be treated effectively with a number of antibiotics. Treatment is more effective when started early in the disease process. That's why it's important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience one or more symptoms.

Are College Students At Greater Risk? Recent studies indicated that the overall risk of infection among college students is small. And it's important to remember that meningococcal disease is rare.

However, studies have also shown that students, particularly younger students living in on-campus housing have a modestly increased risk of meningococcal disease relative to other persons their age. About one-third of all outbreaks from 1991 to 1996 occurred in schools, universities or other organization-based settings.

Why Should You Consider Vaccination? A vaccine is available that protects for a period of three to five years against those strains of the meningococcal meningitis bacteria that cause some 70 percent of the cases in college aged students.

In order to reduce your risk of meningococcal disease, Student Health Services recommends that students with compromised immune systems, or who intend to travel to areas with high meningococcal disease rates should be vaccinated. Some countries now require vaccination.

All other Lander University students, particularly those living in campus resident halls should consider vaccination.

The vaccine is available through the Student Health Center or your local health department. Call Student Health Services for this fee at 864-388-8885.

For more information about meningococcal disease, or to schedule a vaccination, call the Student Health Center at 388-8885.