Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord. Freshmen living in residence halls may be at higher risk of developing this disease than other young persons. A vaccine which can reduce the risk of contracting meningococcal disease is available.
What is meningococcal disease? Meningococcal disease is a rare, potentially fatal, bacterial infection. The disease occurs as either meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord or a meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood.
How many cases of meningococcal disease occur each year? Meningococcal disease strikes about 2,800 Americans each year, or about 1/100,000 persons each year, and is responsible for about 300 deaths annually. It may occur sporadically or in small outbreaks. Rates of meningococcal disease are highest among infants, but in the past decade rates among 11-22 year olds have increased. It is estimated that 100-125 cases of meningococcal disease occur annually on college campuses and 5-15 students die each year as a result. Survivors may suffer brain damage, hearing loss, kidney failure or loss of limbs.
How is meningococcal disease spread? Meningococcal disease is transmitted through the air via droplets of respiratory secretions and by direct contact with an infected person. Direct contact is defined as oral contact with shared items such as cigarettes or drinking glasses or through intimate contact such as kissing. Many people carry the bacteria in their throats, but almost all of them build up a natural immunity before developing any illness.
What are the symptoms? The early symptoms mimic the flu, including fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash and lethargy. The disease often progresses rapidly.
Who is at risk? College students in general are at no greater risk of contracting meningococcal disease than the population of 18-22 year olds as a whole, but studies have shown freshmen living in residence halls have a six times higher risk of meningococcal disease than college students overall. Students 25 years of age or older have a low risk of disease.
How can college students reduce their risk of contracting meningococcal disease? A vaccine called Menactra helps protect against meningococcal disease.
How effective is the vaccine? The vaccine (Menactra) is not effective against one strain of the disease, but provides excellent protection against the strains that cause about 70 - 80% of infections in college students. Development of immunity requires seven to ten days. Protection lasts eight or more years. Routine use of meningococcal vaccine in U.S. military recruits led to an 87% reduction in the incidence of meningococcal disease in this group.
Is the vaccine safe? The vaccine is very safe and adverse reactions are mild and infrequent, consisting primarily of redness and pain at the site of injection lasting up to two days, and mild headache.
What does the CDC recommend? The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine vaccination of all persons ages 11-18 years.
How can I obtain the vaccination? The vaccination (Menactra) is available at the NMU Health Center, at a cost of $115. Some insurers cover this expense. No appointment is necessary. Vaccinations are administered 8-11:15 a.m. and 1-4:15 p.m., every day except Wednesday.